Arguably the most infamous drug smuggler to have ever lived, and certainly the wealthiest, Pablo Escobar’s story has fascinated filmmakers and writers alike for decades. The latest attempt at telling his story comes in the form of Netflix original series Narcos.
Following on from the online streaming service’s successes with House of Cards and Orange is the New Black among others, Netflix are quickly making a name for themselves as having quality exclusive programmes.Initially, the dual narrative structure flicking between America and Columbia feels clunky and at times unnecessary, as Escobar’s (Wagner Moura) story is the one that is of real interest, rather than Steve Murphy’s (Boyd Holbrook) back story as a policeman in LA.
However, as the season progresses and Murphy moves to Columbia, both narratives become more and more intertwined, providing an interesting comparison in perspective. Without the voice of the law, we might be inclined to see the murdering and thieving Escobar as a hero, albeit a significantly flawed one. Sequences of archive news footage and photos throughout the show are reminiscent of Shane Meadows’ masterpiece This is England, serving the same purpose of providing a wider context. Where This is England has Thatcher, Narcos has then-US president Ronald Reagan. At times, these sequences also provide a much-needed reminder that the events occurring in the show did indeed actually happen.
Rather than being a mere rehash of the ideas from Breaking Bad, as the show may at first seem, Narcos has a much wider perspective. Exploring not only Escobar’s rise as a notorious criminal, Narcos also illustrates social and political issues present in Columbia as a whole. Not to mention, Narcos, at times unbelievably, is based on a true story.However, like Breaking Bad, Escobar provides us with an unquestionably ‘bad’ character, but expertly manages to elicit our sympathy, sometimes to a disturbing extent. As mustachioed crime fighter Steve Murphy puts it at the end of the first episode, “good and bad… they’re relative concepts”. Indeed, while delivering this line, he is surrounded by numerous corpses, apparently able to justify the killing of people due to their affiliation with the drug trade, making his morals questionable at the very least.
Narcos, then, is a fascinating exploration of the drug trade in Columbia, but also of morality and justification, making it a must-see.