' ' Cinema Romantico: The Two Escobars

Thursday, July 08, 2010

The Two Escobars

I watched on June 22, 1994 when, in the World Cup, America defeated Colombia, considered a favorite to win the whole tournament, 2-1. I cheered when Andres Escobar of Colombia accidentally sent the ball rocketing into his own goal for what would prove to be the decisive point. I probably even laughed a little. Of course, I did. I was a naive 16 year old. I didn't know anything about Colombian soccer. I knew Carlos Valderrama had cool hair. That was about it. But if I'd really known what was going on....

Directed by Jeff and Mike Zimbalist, "The Two Escobars" is part of ESPN's ongoing "30 For 30" documentary series, and, thus far, its crown jewel. A gripping work that has as much going on off the playing field as on it, this almost two hour epic feels like a work of great fiction, which, of course, makes it all the more profound. And awful. This is the real story of Medellín, not some school play on "Entourage." It is the story of Andres Escobar, a soccer star for the Colombian National Team, and for a club team run by Pablo Escobar, the late, notorious Colombian drug lord, and how the two men's fates would converge as both wound up dead within eight months of each other.

As Pablo Escobar came to power in the late 80's he was searching for a way to legitimize his millions made from cocaine and turned to Medellín's soccer club, Atlético Nacional, which became a perfect front for money laundering (narco-football, as it was known). But it was also a way to assist Colombia's sudden rise to a global soccer power. With Pablo Escobar's money the driving factor, the country was able to keep its best players from going abroad to play elsewhere. One of the squad's star players was Andres Escobar, a decidedly different individual from the man lording over the team. Andres thought the success of soccer could be used to bolster the country and used his prominent status to assist all of Colombia. He never felt comfortable with Pablo Escobar's looming presence but also knew he had no choice but to go along with it, or else....

Combining game footage, old home videos, and numerous interviews the Brothers Zimbalist show the national soccer team's goal was as much an effort to show the soul of Colombia as to win a contest featuring 22 players. The documentary also takes great pains to show the dueling nature of Pablo Escobar: to the lower class he was a Robin Hood - and, in some ways, he truly was - and to the rest - and the rest of the world - he was a bloodthirsty thug hellbent on remaining in power. This is an even-handed, complex portrayal, and it builds to Pablo Escobar's eventual death, plunging the country into chaos as the various crime lords attempted to grab power, followed by Colombia's disastrous showing in the World Cup '94, where players received death threats and much worse.

Sitting in my Iowa living room that night I was ignorant of the bigger picture. In many ways that 2-1 victory was the most considerable in America's scant soccer history but, oh, if I'd known the whole story I would have been thunderous in my support of Colombia. Saying Andres Escobar did not deserve to be shot 10 days after scoring the infamous own goal is a greivous understatement.

Except that's the bittersweet irony. Andres Escobar seemed to have wanted nothing more than for his country to realize the reality of the drug cartels and work to become a better and more inviting place. "The Two Escobars" makes it apparent that his death was key in spurring Colombians to action. I think he would be damn proud of that legacy.

4 comments:

Film Intel said...

I remember this happening but didn't realise there was a full film covering the back story. Will certainly look in to whether I can get that over here in the UK.

Nicholas Prigge said...

Eventually all these films are supposed to be released on DVD but I'm not sure of the exact timeframe.

Castor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Castor said...

I watched this a couple weeks ago on ESPN. Truly senseless, no man should ever be killed for a mistake. It's just a game, of all things...