Netflix’s latest original offering comes in the form of the crime drama Narcos, focussed on the DEA’s chase of the ‘King of Cocaine’ Pablo Escobar. However, Narcos thankfully does not fall into the trap of being a by-the-numbers crime drama, this series manages to cross the breach into something more. Narcos is arguably one of the most gripping and intense TV show’s you will have the great pleasure of witnessing this year.
Wagner Moura’s portrayal of Escobar is the main reason behind this sustained intensity. Moura went to great depths to capture one of history’s most notorious criminals. He put on 70 pounds and moved to Medellin to gain a feel of Colombia. This extensive research shows in his performance. When Escobar talks of his beloved Colombia, you believe him. One of the most poignant moments of the series comes late on; when Escobar rants about all he would have done for his country given the chance, a hostage victim genuinely agrees with him. The series does well to maintain the side of a man who did some great humanitarian work for his people. We see a caring man who is capable of love and compassion rather than just the evil, barbaric monster.
However Narcos doesn’t let us forgot the ruthless, cruel animal that Escobar could be and this is highlighted at several points. Escobar’s nefarious nature is apparent from the outset. In the first episode he uses details of the families of border police to manipulate them. This creates the omnipotent, lurking figure that is seen throughout the series. However, this mean streak is not always so controlled. We see Escobar lose control in forms of savagery later in the series, as the net starts to close on the Medellin cartel. Through all these changes Moura still masterfully oozes the essence of Escobar in a complete performance.
The only negative of Escobar is that there is not enough of him and the other central character, DEA agent Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook), is bland in comparison. Unfortunately the series attempts of making Murphy an edgy, hard hitting cop are heavily clichéd. Added to the 80’s setting, Murphy comes off as a Magnum P.I. impersonator that takes himself too seriously, rather than a genuine match for Escobar. Also his droll voiceover is heavily patriotic, almost to the point where it’s embarrassing to listen to. By the time the series tries introducing a more aggressive and damaged Murphy in the later episodes, we have already lost interest in his character.
The other characters on the side of law enforcement help carry Murphy. His partner Pena (Pedro Pascal) and the Colonel Carillo (Maurice Compte) help viewers to see the effect chasing Escobar had on the men involved. This is also helped by the use of real life footage which really emphasises this event in both Colombia and America’s history. The footage helps the transition between the action of the series while keeping the viewer fully informed on what is happening, the show balances nicely between fact and drama.
Overall Narcos is a truly entertaining watch while at the same time educating a widespread audience on one of the most notorious and interesting figures of recent times. Narcos can at times be violent but it never crosses into gratuitous and this is necessary to reflect the state of Medellin in the 1980’s. The only real negative is the character of Steve Murphy, and one can’t help but wonder how good the show could have been with a more convincing protagonist. However, despite this, it still manages to be a thoroughly entertaining drama that provides and insight into the workings of Escobar and his Medellin Cartel.