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Wed Sep 28 08:53:02 CAT 2016

True Crime: Druglord who thought he was Robin Hood

Andrew Donaldson | 12 February, 2016 01:05
The late Colombian druglord Pablo Escobar's hubristic folly was to believe he was a Robin Hood figure, a man of the people. File photo
Image by: Supplied

It's vanity that does in the druglords. Consider Mexico's Joaquín Guzmán Loera, otherwise known as El Chapo.

He was in hiding, following a bold escape from prison, but broke his cover to be interviewed by the actors Kate del Castillo and Sean Penn. He'd agreed to the meeting because the former had expressed an interest in making a film of his life. El Chapo thought this an excellent idea. So did the authorities - the interview led directly to his rearrest.

The late Colombian druglord Pablo Escobar's hubristic folly was to believe he was a Robin Hood figure, a man of the people. Despite his known reputation as a murderous drug smuggler, he was elected to Colombia's Chamber of Representatives as a liberal lawmaker, a brazen act that outraged authorities, not only in his own country but, more importantly, in the US, where they threw everything into bringing him to book.

Escobar's life has been featured in several film and television productions, but never with as much meticulous detail as in the Brazilian filmmaker José Padilha's gripping crime drama series, Narcos (Netflix). The first season deals with Escobar's life from the late 1970s, when he first began manufacturing cocaine to July 1992, when he escaped from La Catredal prison in Medellín.

Extraordinarily, the prison had been built to Escobar's specifications as part of a 1991 plea bargain: the Colombian government would not extradite him to the US if he promised to stop trafficking and serve a five-year sentence in what amounted to a luxury villa. Of course, the drug business - and the attendant violence and killings - continued as Escobar ran his affairs from his cell, where he frequently hosted corrupt officials, criminal associates, prostitutes and family visitors. When he heard that authorities wanted to move him to a more "normal" prison, he bolted.

The story, as scripted by Chris Brancato, is told through the perspective of Steve Murphy, a DEA agent (played by Boyd Holbrook) tasked with bringing down Escobar (Wagner Moura). At the time of Murphy's arrival in Bogota, Escobar thinks little of the DEA's interest in his affairs, and is busy waging a nasty counter-offensive campaign against communist guerrillas.

Narcos is terrific television, and delves deeply not only into a murky crime world, but also the equally murky aspects of the Reagan administration and its so-called "war on drugs". Be warned, though - some of the violence is harrowing.

If you like 'narcos'

BILLIONS (M-Net Edge, Channel 102)

Potty-mouthed melodrama loosely based on the real life Preet Bharara, a New York district attorney who had something of a jones for prosecuting financial crimes and brought down Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff. Paul Gambetti glowers and grumbles his way through the series as he goes after Damian Lewis, high-flying hedge funder.

THE MOANING OF LIFE (BBC Brit, Channel 120)

Reality travel-documentary-comedy series, with Karl Pilkington, who found cult fame (of a sort) as the awkwardly gormless little Englander at odds with the world in 'An Idiot Abroad'. This is much the same thing - culture clashes, funny natives, relentless whining, etc - but the joke's a little thin now.

PEAKY BLINDERS (BBC First, Channel 119)

Riveting gangster series set in post-World War I Birmingham, with a brooding Cillian Murphy as a crime boss whose gang's smuggling activities come under the scrutiny of Sam Neill, as an embittered detective sent over from Belfast.

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