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Movie review: 'The Two Escobars'

Sport and crime intersect in the documentary's look at drug lord Pablo Escobar and soccer player Andres Escobar.

October 29, 2010|By Robert Abele, Special to the Los Angeles Times

They weren't related, but drug lord Pablo Escobar and soccer player Andres Escobar led intertwined lives of glory and infamy in Colombia, and the full-throttle documentary "The Two Escobars" dynamically chronicles their meshed fates.

Using richly drawn interviews and a rhythmic punch to editing archival footage, Jeff and Michael Zimbalist ("Favela Rising") take a ravenous appetite to their biographical portraits while never losing sight of their real subject: the queasy intersection of sport and crime. Is a nation's athletic pride a diversion from, or a reflection of, what society at large is going through?

On one level, Medellin outlaw Pablo used his ill-gained riches to earn popular love: As fleshed out by family members and his organization's top hit man (now in prison), he built soccer fields in slum neighborhoods and laundered cash by investing in the country's teams, which gave rise to higher-quality players and a global standing for Colombian soccer.

On the other hand, rising player Andres — portrayed by his sister and fiancée as gentlemanly, upstanding and a gifted captain for a Colombian team Pele picked to win the 1994 World Cup — disdained the trappings of "narco soccer" and viewed the field as a place of honor and forgiveness.

As the drug war escalated, Pablo was reduced to finding escape in listening to soccer matches while on the run. And when Andres kicked the ball into his own goal on the sport's biggest stage, he would learn all too tragically what a culture back home born of tainted hope and violent retribution portended.

If the whipped-up nostalgia for Pablo as a man-of-the-people kingpin who would never have let a beloved soccer star be murdered feels a little thickly laid on, the heart-rending testimonials from Andres' teammates about their ecstatic highs and shattering descent is enough to make "The Two Escobars" one of the best sports docs in recent memory.

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