Narcos – Netflix practices realism


The subject is widely documented but it has not lost its power of attraction. He continues to be the object of many fantasies and an intact fascination. First because of the personality of the one who was at the center of this story, Pablo Escobar (Wagner Moura), presented as the greatest mobster in history, and second because of the hypocrisy of the Reagan administration. , too happy to find in the war on drugs, the opportunity to restore the pride of an America still traumatized by its defeat in Vietnam.

With Narcos, Netflix brings together gangster tales and contemporary history, much like HBO did with Boardwalk Empire. There is an obvious cinematographic dimension in this production in 10 episodes put online last week and we think from the first scenes of Scarface by Brian de Palma or even Freedoms by Martin Scorsese. It is less the account of the extraordinary life of a man than the survey of an era.

Chronological storytelling is accomplished in voiceover, from the perspective of DEA agent Steve Murphy (Boyd Hollbrook) sent to Bogota with his colleague Javier Pena (Pedro Pascal saw in Game of Thrones ) in an attempt to combat the trafficking in this new drug, cocaine, which in the late 1970s and early 1980s flooded the United States and replaced traditional marijuana.


The use of an external narrator ( Goodfellas’ first sentence immediately springs to mind – ”  as far as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster “) employed in a profuse manner requires a little adjustment. . This technique appears at first as a little too didactic, a little too present or even invasive, commenting even on fictional scenes and not only on period documents.

The process is also coupled with an important use of audiovisual archives which accentuate the character of the historical narrative. The obvious goal pursued by Chris Brancato, Carlo Bernard, and Doug Miro is to give viewers a feeling of authenticity, if not very strong realism.

This notion of realism is always delicate to handle when it is applied to a work of fiction. This work, although resulting from the imagination, can refer to facts or events which have occurred or actions that would have had a strong probability to occur in circumstances close to those which are shown. In fact, realism is first and foremost a notion of repetition.

A work appears all the more realistic to us the more familiar it is at first glance, in other words, that it takes up, recovers, or reproduces situations already presented in previous fictions. Realism is not to reconstitute reality, because that is impossible, but to (re) present it, as it has already been previously, to link it to situations, heard, seen, known, and accepted.


Narcos makes perfect use of this process by falling within the line of gangster films or fiction, but it is a little more daring by openly claiming to be fiction. To do this, she multiplies the inlays of period documents in the middle of fictional scenes, plays on resemblances, and manages to create a form of continuity between each other which is the very economy of the series.


Strangely, far from exhausting the fantasy surrounding the life of Pablo Escobar and the political and social turbulence of the time, this only strengthens it, consolidates it and one has the impression of attending a playful demonstration in the great tradition of these biographies which occupy bookstores and libraries, mixing small and big history.


The regret that we can have is that the series does not bring much that is not already known. She makes a pleasant summary of this period while delivering a fairly simple message: prohibition never really succeeds in achieving its objectives and criminalization only stimulates traffic.


In the background, it also recalls that the United States found in the war against the “narcos” a dream opportunity to restore their pride hard hit by the defeat in Vietnam. The Reagan administration saw in the Medellin Cartel an enemy against which it could wage a war acceptable to American opinion: to fight against those who threaten to destroy American youth by flooding high schools and universities with cocaine.


The Republicans even managed to strike a double blow when it was proven that the “narcos” had benefited from the support of the Sandinista government in Nicaragua to transport their cargoes to the United States. The struggle against the Communists, which was ideologically obvious at the time and served as the backbone of US diplomacy, found moral foundations in the war on drugs. Narcos and Cocos, in the same bag.


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