When I entered the screening of the film The Two Escobars (Jeff Zimbalist, Michael Zimbalist) at the Los Angeles Film Festival I have to admit I was skeptical. A movie about one of the most hated men in history and some other guy with the same last name who played soccer in Colombia. What could this possibly offer me in terms of backstory I did not already know about Pablo Escobar, as I have read many books on him?
Also, why on earth would I, a person who cannot remember the last sporting event I watched or attended, remotely care about a soccer player, Andrés Escobar, from Colombia? I will even admit, in my naiveté, that I thought Pablo must have killed the soccer player. Goes to show one should never assume anything.
Then the film began…and I was hooked immediately. For as the film unfolded I realized it was more than a movie about two men, it was a film about a country and its people. A movie that would examine not only the impact these men had on their country, how their lives were intertwined but also the ways in which a sport, soccer, would bring together a people and give hope to those where hope may not have existed before. While ultimately showing how their passing would inevitably shape the history of Colombia for years to come.
The general story behind The Two Escobars appears simple. Pablo Escobar, noted drug king, and immense soccer fan, saw an opportunity through soccer to launder money while at the same time provide for his people. Giving rise to the term “Narco Soccer”. His contributions led to the development of the greatest soccer team Colombia has ever seen while giving Colombia a reputation in the world as more than a drug running country. Andrés Escobar was a child raised on the streets of Colombia. He had a talent for playing soccer and by being in the right place at the right time was recruited by the Colombian National Team.
Andrés and Pablo had never physically met before this time but once Andrés was a player on Pablo’s team their lives would forever be entangled. This entanglement is where the film dives deeper than simply ‘Pablo funded the team Andrés played for and had him up to his home for private games and parties’. No. On a more sociological level Andrés and Pablo together built a connection for the people of Colombia. The country was no longer without hope for believing in their soccer team gave them something to grasp onto and to be proud of together.
In a country with so little, to have the pride that comes through sport, it was a miraculous time. This glorified era would only be cut short in 1994, when Andrés Escobar was murdered for scoring an own goal at the World Cup, shortly after the death of Pablo Escobar. The loss of two men so closely tied to the national image of Colombia was a devastating blow and the country appears to never have recovered.
The Two Escobars takes us on the journey of how these two very different men helped shape a nation. As a documentary the film does something that is of the utmost importance when dealing with real events and real people, it shows both sides to the story. There are interviews with Pablo Escobar’s former employees and comrades, as well as with Andrés Escobar’s family and teammates. It neither glorifies or condemns Pablo while avoiding passing judgment. Andrés’ depiction remains positive; never considering his misstep a shameful act.
This is an emotional film that questions all you have known before of Pablo Escobar. He is remembered as the most feared leader of a drug cartel but also as a man who deeply loved his country. His generosity and desire to provide for, and support his community is thoroughly depicted. We have been told, at least in America, to hate Pablo Escobar. Every story he is involved with always focuses on his crimes, not of his generosity. His portrayal in this film provokes a level of sympathy from the viewer. You think to yourself, “How could a man who gave so much, loved so deeply, and wanted great things for his people, be solely regarded as evil?.”
It is hard to reconcile the two personas of Pablo Escobar and the film does not ever try to persuade you to believe in one more than the other. It is honest to a fault. We are always aware he was behind mass killings, that he supplied drugs that would lead to addiction and death amongst many people, and that he controlled governments through fear. We also see how he built homes for the poor, constructed soccer fields to bring communities together, provided an economic boost to a failing society, and controlled crime throughout the country. When Pablo dies it is discussed how politicians and the like rejoiced; the poor wept and attended his funeral.
I realize it may be difficult to see Pablo Escobar as a positive influence on Colombia. This is the great paradox of the film. It defies the historiographies and provides a new outlook. We may go as far as to say Andrés is similar to Pablo in that he is fully what Pablo was partly. The good soul who wanted no more than to give pride to his country. Only to have that stripped away from him by his own people when murdered. As the filmmakers Jeff Zimbalist and Michael Zimbalist state about making The Two Escobars, “it became clear that this was far from a classic “deal-with-the-devil” narrative.”
That statement only becomes more and more clear as every piece of history is revealed. Call Pablo a devil if you like but be prepared to see a side of him that has not been seen before while being introduced to a man full of love for his country who could only have existed with the devil by his side, Andrés Escobar. These two men made an impact on a country in desperate need of a national connection. Upon their deaths unrest flooded the streets and the bond Colombia once held was broken.