Narcos – Season One
I feel like it’s become rote at this point, but Narcos is yet another fantastic Netflix original series. That’s certainly not a bad thing by any means, but it’s honestly become hard to keep up with there being so many amazing Netflix originals. It’s really not fair to the more traditional networks for Netflix to just continue killing it.
But in all seriousness, Narcos has been on my “need to watch” list for quite a while, and I finally committed to checking it out once season two released. I wasn’t surprised that it was good, since so many people had been talking about it, but I was definitely interested in the subject material. I knew of Pablo Escobar, but not all of the details surrounding his story. I knew that he was a Columbian drug lord that outran the law for a long time, and I knew that he eventually died. But I was really excited to learn more. Obviously, I can’t speak to the truth of everything that happens on the show; there could very well be plenty of things that have been “Hollywood-ized.” But if even half of the events are true, it is one crazy story.
The actual show is tremendously well acted and written. Wagner Moura, in particular, is fascinating to watch, though his actual screen time varies depending on what’s happening in the story. Everything is told through Boyd Holbrook’s Steve Murphy, the DEA agent in charge of catching Escobar. I wasn’t expecting so much of the show to be narrated, but it works. I also love how the show uses actual footage of Escobar and other players in the story at times. It gives the show even more of a documentary feel, and makes the crazy things that happen even more crazy, while still remaining believable. The biggest knock against the show that I have is that the timeline can be confusing at times. The first two episodes jump around months and years, both forwards and backward, but then the rest of the season follows a pretty linear path through time. It was a bit jarring from a storytelling perspective. The show can also feel like a slow burn, despite the intense moments. It isn’t a bad thing, but not everyone likes that kind of television, especially if you’re used to watching broadcast dramas where there’s a cliffhanger before every commercial break.
I’ve been on a weird documentary stint lately, and the new Netflix Amanda Knox doc seemed incredibly interesting to me. I had heard of the case, but only tangentially. What I knew was that there was a young woman who had allegedly murdered someone in Italy and there was a huge, multi-part trial. I didn’t know all of the details, only after the fact media coverage. After watching the documentary, two things have been confirmed for me. One, that despite the many issues plaguing America’s police and judicial systems, we still have it much better than most other places in the world. And two, “trial by media” is a very real thing and it is terrifying.
While enrapturing, this documentary doesn’t go into the detail that something like Making a Murderer did, which is inherent in its significantly shorter runtime. This is more about the people involved in the case, primarily Amanda Knox, her boyfriend at the time (who was accused of participating in the murder), the detective in charge of the case, and a primary reporter that covered everything that happened. What’s very interesting is how everyone is portrayed. Amanda comes across as being highly rehearsed in her interviews, and something seems to be not quite right with her. The ex-boyfriend seems relatively simple-minded, like someone who could be easily manipulated. Obviously, none of this is fact, and is simply a gut feeling while watching. And that’s the key interesting thing. Because as the actual facts of the case unfold, it becomes very obvious that there is almost no evidence linking Amanda to the crime. She lived with the girl that was murdered, her story of what happened that night contradicted itself and changed from interview to interview, and her alibi for the night of the murder could only be proven by the very guy that supposedly helped her commit the murder. But there was no actual DNA evidence linking her to the murder, and there was DNA of another man being inside the house the night of the murder, and even evidence that that man sexually assaulted the victim.
What’s scary is how the Italian police and American media ran with what little they did have. Amanda Knox had an online username “Foxy Knoxy,” which the media then construed into her being a sexual deviant. There was a picture online of her jokingly sitting on a large gun, so then she was also a violent person. It was absolutely absurd, but this was months and months of coverage, blatantly skewing pubic opinion against Amanda. The reporter that was interviewed for this documentary went on and on about how amazing it was to cover the trial, and how they had to come up with new stories every day to fill pages. There was no concern over facts or fairness, they just needed a good story. How terrifying is that? The media literally not caring about reporting facts. At that point news becomes tabloids. And the Italian police were no better. The lead detective clearly thought Amanda committed the crime from day one, and so everything new that came up in the case he construed to help his perspective. He wasn’t looking at facts, he had made up his mind no matter what. That sounds like a pretty awful perspective to have when you’re trying to get to the actual truth of a situation, especially a murder.
I don’t know if Amanda committed that murder, and I probably never will. But I do know that there was not enough evidence to convict her of the crime, and Italy did convict her. Twice. She’s free now after an appeal with the Italian Supreme Court, but she’ll live the rest of her life being hated by people that don’t know her. Hated, because the media didn’t care about reporting on the actual trial. They only cared about headlines. That’s something we see nowadays more than ever, and it is a very scary thing.
Flipping through Netflix one night, I discovered Three Kings. One of David O. Russell’s early films, it starred George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube, and Spike Jonze (in his first acting performance) as four soldiers in the Gulf War that set out to steal gold belonging to the now defeated Saddam Hussein. I was expecting a fairly straightforward action type of movie, and while there certainly was action to be had, it definitely took a backseat to the characters and cinematography.
I greatly respect David O. Russell as a director. I think American Hustle, The Fighter, and I Heart Huckabees are all fantastic movies, and that Silver Linings Playbook is solid (though not as amazing as most people say). However, I really didn’t like this movie. It felt very experimental, which I can appreciate, and there were certain elements that I did like. I thought Spike Jonze absolutely stole the show as the moronic yet lovable Conrad Vig. I liked how the camera followed bullets as they were shot, making each one feel like a unique character of its own. And I did enjoy some of the oddball humor that seemed to fly in the face of what was actually happening to the characters.
On the other hand, there were several things I didn’t like so much. The other three leads all felt extremely flat and unlikable, and the story felt very flimsy at times, like things were only happening to push the plot forwards, despite any actual logic. But the most damning thing was how the feel of the movie changed. What started as a weird but fun romp through the desert eventually turned into a very heavy-handed statement about US military involvement in other countries, and had the main characters get wrapped up with refugees from the war. It really felt like two movies, and neither one particularly worked for me. The characters weren’t believable or likable, and I found it very hard to believe that they would completely change their own selfish mission to save people that they wouldn’t normally care about. The story just felt wrong. It’s a very fascinating movie from a technical perspective, and there are lots of cool cinematic elements involved that I had never seen before. But as a movie and a story, I didn’t care for it.