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Film Review: The Two Escobars Scores at Both Ends

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Co-director Michael Zimbalist. Courtesy of ESPN Films 30 for 30.
Rarely, if ever, do stories exist in a vacuum. Instead, they are mere moments that capture a feeling, a scene, but never the whole scope of the issue. And oftentimes, in the shadowy bits curled up at the edge of a good tale, the most interesting, well-connected bits are waiting to be discovered. But even that part is just part of the story.

The Two Escobars, one of ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary series standouts that has broken free of its limited release, explores and exposes the idea of two parallel stories, intertwined and inextricably linked. The two titular Escobars (Andres: stoic and moral Colombian soccer star, and Pablo: highly motivated Colombian drug lord) seemingly could not be farther from one another (they are unrelated), but here are expertly pressed together on celluloid through a winding, fascinating tale of drugs, soccer, politics, and murder.

The binding link between both Escobars, and one expertly documented by co-directors Jeff and Michael Zimbalist, surrounds what’s known as ‘narco-futbol’. During the late 1970’s and through the 1980’s, struggling soccer clubs were snatched up by competing drug cartels; Nacional was owned by Pablo and his Medellin cartel, while Cali cartel and others bought into competing squads. Because of the influx of money and pressure, the quality of the soccer product quickly began to shine like diamonds, allowing cartels to launder money, gain legitimate stature, and still compete against one another. Meanwhile, Colombia was compiling a national soccer team that would come to be feared in the 1994 World Cup to be played on US soil. As the opening round of the largest soccer tournament in the world nears, Columbia begins to fall apart internally, with both Escobars under tremendous pressure and seeking escape. Eventually, blood is shed on both sides, and like all stories, true motives and ultimate meanings may forever remain unclear.

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What is known, simply, is this: The Two Escobars is a fantastic documentary, told in a wondrous dual-protagonist narrative that never envelopes or tires the viewer. Instead, the extensive interviews are engrossing and highly informative, and the amount of retouched archival footage is absolutely astounding. The clarity, breadth, and storytelling ability of the Zimbalist brothers should be at once applauded and taken very seriously; they are ruthlessly tackling bold subjects that do not go quietly away, leaving the viewer to clean up the beautiful (if gory) images themselves.

The Two Escobars opens in LA on October 29th Laemmle’s Music Hall 3.