January 30, 2017

Narcos (Season 1 & 2)

Carlo Bernard, Chris Brancato, Doug Miro, 2015-2016
When I think about really detailed gritty crime dramas, I think of Jean-Francois Richet's Mesrine: Killer Instinct films. Split into two films, it's a biopic of "Public Enemy 1" Jacques Mesrine. Mesrine was a French gangster responsible for several bank robberies and kidnappings in France and Canada. He managed to elude the law and even escaped from prison. Jacques Mesrine and Pablo Escobar have a lot in common. They are both solitary figures both considered to be highly dangerous & sought after to their respective countries. They were both incredibly elusive and constantly in hiding. They both managed to escape from prison. They were both considered to be "Robin Hood" figures to the common people.

But Wagner Moura's Pablo Escobar will have more of a lasting impact on the cinematic landscape than Cassel's Mesrine. This is probably because through a television series, he's really able to cultivate the Pablo character and let it build rather than try to let it build through 4-6 hours of two movies. But the similarties between the two don't stop at the leading performances. They both have an elaborate backdrop. Mesrine in urban France. Narcos in urban Colombia. Through fly over shots of Colombia, tracking shots through the streets, it creates an detail rich world that pulls you in. As dangerous as the city may be there is still something that draws you back to it.

As each episode continues in Narcos, the stakes continue to elevate as does Escobar's wealth and influence. As his empire grows, his moral concessions do as well. Almost like Breaking Bad, he's a figure in slow deteriortion. Someone that has concrete morals at the beginning turns into a comprimised villain with blurred vision. Escobar is undoubtedly an interesting figure. Someone who has unimaginable wealth and power. Yet there is a hunger for more. More of what? Well, that's what the series is all about. Legacy, respect, family. These are all important things to Pablo. In a sense the money is just secondary. It really becomes a disposable thing. We are constantly seeing stacks and stacks of money thrown around like napkins through the series. Buried underground, thrown in bags, throwns in boxes. There's so much of it they don't even know what to do with it all.

I gave Mesrine 5 stars back when I reviewed the two films. I feel the same for Narcos. It's hard to find any noticeable flaws with this series. It's just so well filmed, so well acted, so well put together. Everything from the production design to the intricate sound design - it's all top notch. It's all just top notch. Call me a sucker for gritty crime dramas, I deserve it. Cutting my teeth with Scorcese's great body of work has set a certain standard. Narcos meets and exceeds these standards.

Season 2 manages to keep raising the stakes, the only difference being that we finally get to see some pieces of Escobar's empire finally breaking down. But the mystique around him builds. There are times that, even if you are aware of the historical facts, it feels like he's never going to be caught. One of the constant thoughts I have while watching Narcos is what if Pablo had never run for that political office early on? By doing that he put the spotlight on him, a spotlight that never went away. It seems possible that if continued to lurk in the shadows of Colombian society rather than trying to become such a mainstream figure that he could have gone on growing his empire and wouldn't have to spend his life on the run.

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