First look Netflix UK TV review: Narcos
Chris Bryant | On 28, Aug 2015
“Magic realism is defined as what happens when a highly detailed realistic setting is invaded by something too strange to believe. There is a reason magic realism was born in Colombia.”
Narcos follows the 80s cocaine boom from the very beginning. Narrated by DEA Agent Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook), the uncompromising series chronicles the rise of the drug from all angles: glimpses of Congress are as common as news footage about massacred Columbian policemen. The documentary style of the show only adds to the envelopment of the viewer – the idea that this is a predominantly factual account may take the entire season to come to terms with.
Dominated by Wagner Moura’s tense, razor-sharp Pablo Escobar, the first episode sets a perfect tone. It follows odd secondary characters with as much weight as it does major DEA players and Columbian cartel bosses. Before long, it fails to matter whether the shots of piles of money and truckloads of cocaine are staged or borrowed from news footage; the sheer gravity of the story numbs everything. In the opening 52-minute episode, the grams become kilograms, the murders become massacres, and the earnings become fortunes.
Narcos cleverly manages to balance the almost cartoonish drug-kingpin characters not unlike those found elsewhere on Netflix (Breaking Bad, The Shield, Sons of Anarchy) with the fact that this is where it started. Rich with speeches rid of their cliché by this setting, both Holbrook and Moura – alongside Luis Guzman and more – get their share of foreboding monologues. The lost reminiscence of the DEA Agent’s narration contrasts with a young Escobar’s fresh darkness about his ambitions.
The gritty, factual recapping of a bloody war is displayed on-screen as a domino-effect of conscienceless threats and an avalanche of income. Narcos reveals within seconds that it’s completely aware that the truth in this story is exactly what makes it unbelievable. Coupled with a cast and crew that are controlled and subtle enough to portray these larger-than-life people, Narcos is unembellished, yet so colourful in its depictions of events. Netflix may well have created a new standard of storytelling.
All episodes of Narcos are available on Netflix UK from Friday 28th August, as part of a £7.49 monthly subscription.
Spoilers and further consideration
– As Escobar names, threatens and murders his local law enforcement, slightly bigger fish head towards him. Boyd Holbrook’s Agent Murphy begins the show chasing pot-peddling hippies in flip-flops and concludes it gunning down heavily-armed cocaine bosses in nightclubs.
– Escobar, to his credit, sees the threat of the DEA long before it arrives at his door, offering half a million for the head of any DEA agent. The race between the two now centres around who will be first to realise what they’re up against.