This is a review of ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary, “The Two Escobars“. Produced and directed by brothers Jeff and Michael Zimbalist, it’s a film that explores the difference and also the shocking connections between two Colombians, the infamous Pablo Escobar, the head of the powerful Medellin drug cartel, and the beloved Andres Escobar, a rising soccer star and captain of the Colombian national soccer team.
The documentary looks at the events leading up to the death of the two men and how the marriage of drug money and sports led to the rise of Colombia as a favorite for the 1994 World Cup. And it also shows how the assassination of Andres Escobar was part of ultimate chaos in the country.
The film begins in 1994 as Colombia is preparing to play the United States in group play at the World Cup. Colombia, a heavy favorite against the U.S., comes into the game having lost to Romania in its opening match. Andres Escobar’s teammates admit coming into the game tight and nervous, thinking about their families as death threats have come in. Then as the US was attacking, Andres Escobar accidentally kicks the ball into his own net and the Colombians eventually lose, 1-0 and are eliminated from the World Cup.
That incident is the culmination of several events that eventually leads to Escobar’s death. But before we get to that inexplicable murder, the Zimbalists take us back to the rise and fall of Pablo Escobar. How he came to be linked to the Colombian soccer team and how his power allowed him to be friends with many players with the exception of Andres.
We’re shown how Pablo, born into poverty, goes from stealing cars into trafficking drugs, mainly cocaine. It makes him a very rich man and it gives him enough money to start giving back to poor communities building soccer fields and giving kids hope for a brighter future. His power enables him to buy a soccer team, stock it with the best players and coaches and make into a champion.
Andres Esocbar also comes from humble beginnings, but he plays soccer, showing his ability that makes coaches notice. He plays for the team that Pablo owns, but ignores the fact that he’s a drug lord. Andres wants to play and use soccer to improve not only his own condition, but also Colombia’s. He’s aware of Pablo’s ruthless ways and he knows that as part of the team, he has to pay visits to his palatial estates, but he does his best not to associate with Pablo.
As Pablo gains more power, he’s able to buy off politicians. Those who oppose him are ruthlessly assassinated. In addition, Pablo is very interested in soccer. He and other drug lords use teams to launder money and are able to inflate the value of players to make more money. This marriage allows Colombia to become one of the favorites for the World Cup in 1994.
But as Pablo gets more ruthless and controls the cocaine market thanks to a growing demand in the United States, both the governments in the US and Colombia declare war on Escobar. His enemies decide they have to do something. But Escobar goes one step better by having enough influence on politicians where they pass a law onto Colombia’s constitution that prevents criminals from being extradited to face charges in other countries. He’s also to turn himself in and dictate the prison where he’ll be held.
Once in prison, he’s visited by the national soccer team including Andres who makes it clear that he wants nothing to do with Pablo, that’s he going to the prison because he has to.
Eventually, the government tries to extradict Pablo, he escapes, but his enemies go after him with bloody results. It leads to tremendous civil unrest.
The soccer team tries to show that it’s above the chaos that has beset the country. Colombia’s president has embraced Andres and his teammates as the image the country wants to present to the world. Colombia breezes through World Cup qualifying and establishes itself as a favorite to win the trophy. But after losing its opening game to Romania, the team receives death threats from gamblers.
One team member’s brother is murdered back home. The coach is instructed to bench one of its best players for the game against the U.S. And instead of being focused on the task at hand, the players are distracted by the unrest surrounding the team. And then there’s the own goal by Andres Escobar that leads to Colombia’s defeat at the hands of the U.S. and the elimination from the World Cup.
This is an amazing documentary. It goes for two hours, but you do not notice the length at all. There is no narrator as is the style of “30 for 30″, but there are numerous interviews with people close to both Escobars, Andres’ sister and fiancee, Pablo’s right hand man and many others who lived through the tumultuous time. The interviews are mostly in Spanish and subtitled, but the documentary is so compelling, that you find them to be easy to follow.
The Zimbalists find rare footage of Pablo and Andres Escobar to fill the documtary. This footage gives us a perspective into the two men and also provides us the background on what life in Colombia was like.
I keep saying it in each review, but this is truly the best documentary of the “30 for 30″ series and easily could be one of the best films I have seen in the last 10 years. It’s that good.
The Zimbalists provide the facts and details with true care. An excellent documentary that deserves an A+. This is close to being a perfect documentary.
If you missed the premiere, ESPN Classic will run “The Two Escobars” this Saturday at 10 p.m. Eastern. ESPN2 will have multiple re-airs including July 2 at 1 a.m. Eastern and again on July 4 at 1 p.m.
Here are a couple of clips from the documentary. This looks at the team Pablo owned.
And this explains how Escobar and other drug lords were heavily involved in Colombian soccer.
Finally, the trailer of “The Two Escobars” that was screened at the Cannes Film Festival.
If you have a chance, watch the documentary. You won’t be disappointed.