Monday, September 12, 2016

Streaming For Vengeance: NARCOS (2015)

A column dedicated to the must-see original movies and binge-worthy series currently streaming on Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and other channels .
Netflix's extraordinary original series "Narcos" chronicles the violent exploits of Pablo Escobar and the agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency's painstaking attempts to capture the notorious Colombian drug lord and bring him to justice. If the premise sounds like something you've seen in various other movies on small and big screens alike (Steven Soderbergh's excellent TRAFFIC for one) think again. "Narcos" gives equal time to both sides of the bloody chess game that is the world of drug trafficking cartels. This is not SCARFACE redux by any means rather it is a deliberately paced and suspenseful (sometimes agonizingly so) procedural detailing not just the headline-grabbing events of the horrifying events during Escobar's reign in Medillan but also the red herrings and cold trails the DEA agents endured during the turbulent years spent hunting him down.
The series, whose second season recently premiered, is narrated by Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrooks from GONE GIRL and MILK) the real-life DEA agent who, working alongside his partner Javier Pena (Pedro Pascal from "Game of Thrones,") is stationed in a dreary sub-level government office located right smack in Bogota, Colombia. He recounts the events with a wizened and sometimes even sarcastic tone as he brings viewers behind the scenes into the baffling maze of grueling detective work done amidst the infuriating bureaucratic red tape that hurled roadblocks in the agents' path as they zeroed closer and closer to the diabolically elusive Escobar (the excellent Brazilian actor Wagner Moura from ELYSIUM.) Though the actual Steve Murphy presented in photographs during the opening credits sequence was a very bland looking fellow, Holbrooks is an extremely charismatic actor reminiscent of Brad Pitt before he became an A List movie star. Besides the dull and harrowing nature of his occupation, Murphy also has his own personal drama to contend with as his own life is at risk on a nearly daily basis evading gunfire and car bombs while he is thousands of miles away from his wife and newborn daughter. His partner Javier is more of lone wolf operative whose Mexican heritage allows him to cross the boundaries between agents and cartel thugs more stealthily though his dogged determination places him literally in the crosshairs on more than one occasion.
Though he is clearly the villain, Escobar (known by his henchmen and allies as El Patron) is the true central character of "Narcos" and Moura, along with the series'creators Carlos Bernard, Chris Brancato, and Doug Miro, has created a multidimensional figure of a man who is nowhere near the scheming, cocaine-snorting, crime lord that we've all seen a thousand timesover. Rather, this Escobar is a man whose very nature is very complex and contradictory as he goes from poor migrant worker to multi-billionaire yet even at the peak of his reign as Colombia's cartel czar he dresses as if he shops at a Ross Dress For Less. Wearing his trademark short-sleeved business shirts and drab polyester pants, Escobar uses his vast wealth to provide a luxurious lifestyle for his devoted wife Tata and adoring two children and even his mother Hermilda who refuses to see the devil's horns hiding underneath the halo her angelic son wears. Though he has a brief dalliance with a glamorous local news reporter, Escobar's main vice is fame and the inherent delusions of grandeur as he begins to see himself as more than just a dreuglord but someone who could represent the best interests of his adoring public and beloved hometown of Medillin, and perhaps even be elected as president of Colombia. Like a certain U.S. presidential candidate who has cast himself as the true voice of the American people, Escobar's noble ambitions are overshadowed by his gargantuan ego and narcissistic tendencies. Moura's personification is enhanced by his baby-faced visage as Escobar never stops being the boy who will always need more toys to play with.
While the first season of "Narcos" ends with a real cliffhanger, Season Two is more of a satisfying and conclusive. Just like the real war on drug cartels that tragically rages on, however, there are plenty more bad guys for Murphy and Pena to catch and Netlfix's announcement of a third season is great news for fans of high quality television that continues to outshine its big screen competition.

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