- Actors: Wagner Moura, Boyd Holbrook, Pedro Pascal, Luis Guzmán, Bruno Bichir
- Director: Andrés Baiz, Fernando Coimbra, Guillermo Navarro, José Padilha
- Format: NTSC, Widescreen
- Language: English
- Region: Region A/1
- Number of discs: 3
- Studio: LIONSGATE
- Release Date: August 23, 2016
- Run Time: 352 minutes
Netflix’s original programming has quickly surpassed all networks, including HBO. Not only does their content seem to be released much faster than the cable network, Netflix shows also have far greater variety in the tone and style of their shows, as well as their target audiences. Although the format for “Narcos” has surely existed previously, at least in film form, I am most impressed by the series’ ability to convince American audiences to read subtitles. Bilingual shows have also been done before, but in “Narcos,” Netflix has found a genre that audiences are willing to endure it for.
Following the true cases of DEA efforts in the war against drugs, “Narcos” charts the rise of international cocaine cartels with its increasing popularity in the 1980s. Focus mostly remains on Columbian kingpin, Pablo Escobar (Wagner Moura), who was primarily just a smuggler until discovering the profitability of the white powder. Perhaps the smartest decision of “Narcos” is the depiction of Escobar’s humanity alongside his ruthless business model. We are allowed to see the affection he has for his family parallel to his descent into an egomaniacal war with his government and the DEA.
This works for the other side also, mapping out the moral decline of Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook), the DEA agent stationed in Columbia with his own wife (Joanna Christie). We follow Murphy from his early beginnings taking down drug dealers stateside, and even he is allowed humanizing moments through his romantic relationship and the hardships of watching his colleagues killed in the war. Eventually, however, Murphy learns to play the game dirty in order to win against the tyranny of Escobar’s control and the power of his vast wealth. As the narrator of the story, Murphy’s descent into the gritty world of drug wars has even more impact than Escobar’s fall, especially when each decision is contrasted by their spouse’s vastly different reactions to the violence.
While most narratives based on true events are greatly altered to make a better story, “Narcos” seems more dedicated than most to keeping many of the facts the same. There are actual chunks of dialogue which were taken from recordings of Escobar, as well as real archival footage and photography of the kingpin within the show. Even if Moura is not an exact physical match for the man he is playing, the opportunity for these comparisons helps ground the show in reality while simultaneously reminding audiences of the difficult task the actor faces. Some have criticized Moura’s dialect as inauthentic, despite the fact that the Brazilian actor learned Spanish to play this role and easily carries the series with his strengths as an actor.
Although season one of “Narcos” leaves plenty of opportunity for the show to continue one (season two debuts on September 2nd), it also manages to close the door on a period of Escobar’s life. The first season can be viewed with some resolution, rather than any type of cliffhanger scenario. This may influence some in deciding to own the first season prior to watching the second, and it also gives viewers without a Netflix subscription an opportunity to finally watch the show.
The Blu-ray release of season one includes all 10 episodes on 3 discs, along with special features. The extras are at their best with commentary tracks on three key episodes, featuring an assortment of producers (including Jose Padilha), director Andi Baiz, and even Moura on one of them. The collection of commentators is different on each track, making each dynamically different. Also included are three featurettes. One is about the difficulties of making a bilingual series, another shows the dedication to accuracy, while the last is a more general making-of featurette that is nearly 25-minutes long. There are also about 7-minutes of deleted scenes.
Entertainment Value: 8/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 8.5/10
Historical Significance: 7.5/10
Special Features: 7/10