Directed by: Andrés Baiz, Fernando Coimbra, Gabriel Ripstein, Josef Kubota Wladyka
Written by: Andrew Black, Ashley Lyle, Bart Nickerson, Carlo Bernard, Chris Brancato, Clayton Trussell, David Matthews, Doug Miro, Eric Newman, Jason George, Santa Sierra
Starring: Alberto Ammann, Andrea Londo, Andrés Crespo, Arturo Castro, Damián Alcázar, Eric Lange, Francisco Denis, Javier Cámara, Juan Pablo Shuk, Juan Sebastián Calero, Matias Varela, Matt Whelan, Michael Stahl-David, Pedro Pascal, Pêpê Rapazote
On DVD and Blu-Ray from 27th August 2018
Despite taking down Pablo Escobar and his drug empire, the war on drugs in Columbia is far from over. With Pablo gone, the Cali Cartel increase their production to become the supplier of 80% of the cocaine in the world. The Cali Cartel’s leaders, known as the Gentlemen of Cali, have so far kept themselves under the radar unlike Pablo who seeked the glory of the people.
After successfully bringing down Escobar, DEA agent Javier Peña sets his sights on dismantling the Cali cartel with the help of hungry young DEA agents Chris Festl and Daniel Van Ness. However, with the Cali Cartel having eyes and ears across the whole of Columbia, successfully capturing them won’t be an easy task.
Meanwhile, the Cali cartel’s head of security, Jorge Salcedo, wants out of the cartel to setup his own security firm but is given no choice but to remain serving the cartel’s leaders, Gilberto and Miguel Rodriguez, for another six months after Gilberto strikes a deal with the Columbian government to surrender and retire from the drug business in exchange for keeping their wealth. With six months to push production to its max to squeeze out every last cent and peso, the Cali cartel need Salcedo more than ever. When the DEA start sniffing around and exploiting the security’s weaknesses, Salcedo knows he has to get out before he becomes the next head on the slab of the increasingly paranoid cartel and decides to put his life, and that of his family’s, on the line in order to free them of almost certain death.
NARCOS, the hit crime series from Netflix, breathes new life into its programming after the end of the Escobar saga in Season 2. Having Pedro Pascal return as Javi Peña, one of the two leading DEA agents of the previous seasons, is a welcome move by the production, in addition to them bringing back other familiar faces from the past seasons and the introduction of many new ones as the tale descends into the business of Escobar’s rivals and successors, the Cali cartel.
Led by charismatic Gilberto Rodriguez, the Cali cartel also comprises of Gilberto’s younger, quieter brother Miguel, the unhinged Chepe Santacruz and suave Pacho Herrara. Business is booming since the fall of Escobar and with their efficiency and smarts, the cartel have managed to become the largest supplier in the world. Their method of bribing instead of resorting to violence couldn’t have worked better with people in all sorts of high places secretly receiving backhanders in exchange for information. Even the phone lines of Cali are unsafe as the cartel’s security team have all the lines monitored by the telecoms company for any mentions of the cartel. This is quite a scary prospect that not even the other drug lords working for the cartel can avoid as we see in scenes early on when Gilberto announces their surrender deal. With lower ranked drug lords annoyed that they’re being forced into an early retirement, they leave the meeting with a few choice words about Gilberto and the deal, all of which are recorded in various ways – some by bugs planted at houses, others by taxi drivers escorting their drug lord passengers to their destination. You can imagine how difficult it is to keep your thoughts to yourself at ALL times. I bet these guys wished they had when they come face-to-face with the consequence of their outspoken feelings…
Set in Cali this time round, Season 3 isn’t as visually appealing as its previous incarnations. In season 1 and 2, we were treated to plenty of location shots which gave a greater sense of the city and its neighbourhood – a community which Escobar was a huge part of. They loved him and he loved them back. In Season 3, the community is of no interest to the cartel and it’s strictly professional business. In a way, this is reflected in how the series has been shot. Season 3 is predominantly interior shots with a few exterior building shots, but most of them are centred around some working or living environment. This effectively reflects the contrast between the working styls of Escobar and the Cali cartel and, in a way, shows a clear definition between the two stories.
In Season 1 and 2, Peña and Steve Murphy were the energetic main leads hunting down the drug lord. In this season, whilst Festl and Van Ness look to replace those roles, the DEA agent characters take a bit of a step back whilst Peña takes on a more managerial, leadership role of the duo. Even then, Peña and the team play second fiddle to the core of the story which is the impending retirement of the Cali cartel and the arguments it’s created within, and the troubling torment of Jorge Salcedo who’s wanting to escape the clutches of the cartel. If I had to pick one character who effectively takes the lead here.
Jorge Salcedo, played brilliantly by Matias Verela, is a good man at heart but unfortunately working for the wrong people. He’s never killed anyone and works unarmed, as does his team, preferring to rely on surveillance and communication via walkie talkies to protect the cartel. With a young family, he wants to get out of the feared criminal organisation and start up his own firm but when Miguel Rodriguez requests him to stay for an extended period, he has no choice but to accpet. However, whilst the previous months may have been a walk in the park, things are about to turn real nasty which puts Salcedo in a dangerous position. This is where the series effectively begins and we, the viewer, quickly get onside of Salcedo as he attempts to find an effective escape route out of the cartel before he ends up being their next victim. As a charcter, he’s playing a very dangerous game and you can’t help but question yourself if you’d do anything differently if you were in his shoes. Whilst his kind heart doesn’t excuse him of his work protecting major league criminals, he does come across as one of the most warmest characters we’ve seen working for the antagonists. Salcedo is in sharp contrast to someone like Navegante (Juan Sebastián Calero), the ginger-haired ruthless assassin who dispatches people with such unflinching ease it’s almost as normal as pouring a glass of milk. You know if Navagante shows up at your door you’re in deep shit. Though he’s not the only bad guy to watch out for as Miguel Rodriguez’s slimeball son David (Arturo Castro) proves to be a nasty piece of work also. Though the amount of violence is dialed down somewhat compared to season 2, the Cali cartel are more than capable of showing the darkside of their gentlemen personas with hints of jaw-dropping brutality; enough to make you want to flee Columbia on the first flight outta there.
NARCOS Season 3, much like the previous seasons, delves into the political landscape during the era of the Cali cartel and outlines just how difficult it would have been to work in a country where even the local police have been bought. The struggle for Peña and the team to seek justice and rid the world of the drug barons is frighteningly real. In this outing, it’s nice to see that characters have learned from past experience and decide to execute a raid in a more effective way given the circumstances. It adds a realism that many other programmes and films just seem to ignore. It’s also great that the season decides to savour the moment and think about its next step, much like the character of Peña who has seen it, done it, made the mistakes and got the t-shirt and therefore knows what pitfalls to try to avoid in this new case.
Thrilling, nail biting and in some cases, heart-stopping, NARCOS Season 3 is a fine example of how to continue a series in the absence of its initial main character.