Benicio del Toro to star as Colombian drugs kingpin Pablo Escobar in new film Paradise Lost while Netflix launches Narcos
It is almost 22 years since Pablo Escobar, the Colombian drugs kingpin, was shot dead on a barrio rooftop in Medellín, but his story has never been more popular. At the end of this month the eagerly awaited Narcos, a new 10-part TV series following Escobar’s rise and fall, will arrive on Netflix.
Paradise Lost, a film starring Benicio del Toro as the paunchy drugs baron, recently opened in the UK and two biopics are in the works, one tentatively entitled El Patrón and slated for release in 2017, starring John Leguizamo; the other from Spanish director Fernando León de Aranoa and starring Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz.
So why does Escobar’s brutal life and violent death continue to exert such a hold? In part it’s the sheer scale of his operation – at the height of Escobar’s power he controlled more than three-quarters of America’s cocaine trade, had an estimated fortune of $30bn and appeared on Forbes magazine’s most wealthy list. He also killed with impunity, bombing the capital city of Bogotá, assassinating presidential candidates, and kidnapping, torturing and murdering lawyers, journalists and government ministers. In 1989 he blew up Avianca Airlines Flight 2003 in a failed attempt to kill presidential candidate César Gaviria Trujillo, but still leaving 110 dead.
“We saw Escobar as the first narco-terrorist,” says former drugs enforcement agent Steve Murphy who, with his DEA partner, Javier Peña, worked as a consultant on Narcos. “Transnational organised crime affects almost every aspect of our lives, some directly but most indirectly, so I think a show like Narcos is important because people want to find out more about history so we can learn not to repeat past mistakes.” It is a noble suggestion, but it is also the case that Escobar’s outlaw image continues to exert a dark pull. In Medellín, tours are now offered to the various haunts and hangouts of the city’s most notorious son, while El Patrón del Mal, a 2012 Colombian telenovella about Escobar’s life, drew huge ratings but was criticised for reducing the cartel’s victims to anecdotes and distorting history.
Eric Newman, who co-created Narcos with José Padilha, stresses that the Netflix series will not celebrate the man once described as “the Robin Hood of Medellín”.
“I really love movies like Scarface, but that sort of slightly heroic drug dealer thing doesn’t work any more,” Newman says. “I think that’s why a lot of Pablo Escobar stories they’ve tried to make in the past haven’t really worked.”
It is a line with which Escobar’s son, who changed his name from Juan Pablo Escobar to Sebastián Marroquín, might agree. Marroquín recently brought out a book about his father in which he describes an excess-filled world of violence, betrayal and death where party piñatas are stuffed full of cash, helicopters are dispatched to pick up specific types of hamburgers for greedy children, and machine guns are trained as a joke on sobbing employees.
“There are young people – who don’t know the story and who don’t know the consequences of violence – who see a TV series, watch a movie or read a book about my father’s life and want to be like him,” Marroquín said in an interview with journalist Luis García Casas for German broadcaster Deutsche Welle last week. “But my father is very far from being a hero – I always say if someone reads my book and wants to be Pablo Escobar, then I did a bad job.”
And while Narcos does have a certain Goodfellas-style glamour to its depiction of Escobar’s gaudy world, it is careful to present a fully rounded portrayal of the drugs trade. Newman and Padilha worked closely with Murphy and Peña to ensure authenticity, the cast is largely Latin American – Escobar is played by rising Brazilian star Wagner Moura – and the dialogue is 60% English and 40% Spanish with subtitles.
“There’s a completely Shakespearean sort of design to the whole thing,” says Chilean-American actor Pedro Pascal, who plays Peña. “The guy’s a king in so many different ways – a saint to some, a villain to others. I had my naive impressions of it all growing up in the 80s and the way it’s been fed to us through entertainment and movies and stuff, but then you really see the details of how he rose and ran things and it’s just … ”
Peña agrees. “It’s really a story about how one man could challenge his own country and actually win until a group of dedicated Colombian and US police officers disregarded their own safety to try and bring the cartel down,” he says. “But it’s more than that – Escobar’s story remains interesting because of what we’re seeing in Mexico right now.”
As for Newman, his main concern was to ensure that this wasn’t a simple tale of Americans good, Colombians bad. Thus the DEA agents are shown making compromised choices to achieve their aims – something that Peña and Murphy agree did happen. Meanwhile the cartel use their blood money to initiate housing projects in the barrios of Medellín and still, relentlessly, innocent people die.
“It’s a very complicated story,” Newman says. “America is the largest market for cocaine in the world by far and I don’t think we, even today, look at the violence in Mexico and think, as a people, ‘wow, we are actually causing that’. So I think there’s a giant ignorance. I’m not presumptuous enough to think we’re going to dispel that and wake everybody up, but hopefully people are going to say, ‘Wow. This is more complicated than I had previously thought’.”
Source : TheGuardian