Narcos

  • Title: Narcos
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Genre: Crime Thriller/Biographical Drama
  • Released: 28 August 2015
  • Run time: 81
  • Creator: Chris Brancato (United States)
  • Starring: Wagner Moura (Brazil), Boyd Holbrook (United States), Pedra Pascal (United States/Chile), Rodrigo Amarante (Brazil)
  • Available on: Netflix
  • Recommendation by: Brian Magnuson

If you are like me, there are certain biases you carry about places you’ve never had the opportunity to visit. The little knowledge you do have may be based on limited sources such as the news or conversation. You are definitely not an expert and your bias may hamper you from acquiring a wider more informed perspective.

The series' basis, Mr. Escobar himself.

The series' basis, Mr. Escobar himself.

My bias was about watching a streaming series that I feared may show too much realistic violence. So, I passed it over- for a while. Later, I began seeing some reviews.  Narcos (streaming season 1 on Netflix) was getting some positive press. So I set aside my bias and gave it a try. Granted, there was violence depicted in this series, the subject matter was compelled to deal with it. After all, you don’t get to be high in the food chain of drug trafficking without spilling some blood. I’m talking about Pablo Escobar and other cartel jefes.

The show is semi-biographical in nature. It presents Pablo Escobar and his meteoric rise to infamy and vainglorious achievements. It is voiced over and aims from the perspective of another main character in the show, a United States Drug Enforcement Agent name Steve Murphy. Narcos (Spanish slang for drug dealer) is not for the faint of heart. This is mostly because almost half of the show is spoken in Spanish with English subtitles. Luckily for slow readers like me the words linger at the bottom of the screen long enough for me to read and understand the character dialogue. As for violence; there is plenty. But, it does advance the show and paints the criminals as criminals and the god guys as, well, you get the idea. Sometimes the scenes can be very graphic and other times the camera will pan away so as not to saturate the viewer with gore.

I like the show for the story though some details seem farfetched. For example, the drug lords make so much dirty money that they aren’t able to spend their stockpiled cash fast enough. Their solution to this gargantuan problem is to bury the bundles of loot like pirates. But, maybe, truth is stranger than fiction. What do I know about this dangerous life? And that is exactly what makes the show so attractive. Watching, you begin to learn about the problems and solutions on both sides of the barbed wire. Neither side seems all that sympathetic to this viewer. The only sympathy I can muster is for the innocents caught in the crossfire of the cocaine wars. This brings me back full circle in this review to the bias. I did not want to see violence perpetrated on innocents.

The characters are drawn well. They are not flat, two dimensional caricatures. Much of the show is shot on location in Bogota, Colombia. Wide establishing shots show the city nestled in the hills of the Andes Mountains as it must have looked in the 1980’s during the rise of drug cartels. Other locations give the viewer a feel for what Colombia must look like and the way people dress for the climate.

Narcos, for all its good writing, acting, and cinematography is not a show you would watch for the culture, unless that culture is cops and robbers. Narcos is a television series with a different flair to appeal to a wider, more international audience. Don’t watch it to experience South America. Watch it as a semi factual, historically fictionalized, police procedural. Three out of five Globes for cultural immersion.

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