Narcos on Netflix review - 'endlessly thrilling and fast-paced – an explosive blockbuster miniaturised for the small screen'
Netflix's ongoing reinvention as a home of original programming has yielded patchy results of late, with shows such as Sense8 and Bloodline suggesting the streaming juggernaut hasn't quite unlocked the secret of great television. However, it takes a significant forward step with Narcos, a sizzling, sexy retelling of the rise of Colombian drugs baron Pablo Escobar, here portrayed by Brazilian actor Wagner Moura as an almost literally moustache-twirling villain straight out of Tarantino.
Infusing some of the gonzo spirit of Brian De Palma's Scarface and Michael Mann's original Miami Vice series into what is nominally a true-crime story, Narcos is endlessly thrilling and fast-paced – an explosive blockbuster miniaturised for the small screen but with the brio and bombast preserved.
The action is narrated by former model Boyd Holbrook, playing a Miami drug enforcement agent caught up in the devastating aftershock of America's early 80s cocaine epidemic (for which Escobar was overwhelmingly responsible). But the true star is Brazilian Moura, playing Escobar to as a mobster who thinks he's a folk hero.
As in real life, Escobar showers the poor of his home city of Medellin with new housing and soccer pitches (as well as handing out chunks of cash to the impoverished) even as he wages a brutal campaign against the Colombian government and responds ruthlessly to rivals and allies throwing him as much as a curious glance. We see him rise from a minor trafficker in stolen VCRs to the ruler of virtually his own unofficial state, an emperor-criminal reaping $60 million a day at the peak of his influence (Escobar was required to bury bales of dollar bills in the jungle as the dysfunctional Colombian economy could not absorb his endless billions)
The end of Escobar's story is no mystery – he was gunned down in 1993 by members of the elite Search Bloc anti terrorism unit (her led by Manolo Cardono). The genius of Narcos, then, is to breathe drama into what could well have felt like a glorified history lesson. We are all vaguely aware of Escobar and what he did to Colombia. Here, his remarkable rise and bloody reign fuels one of the year's most thrilling dramas.