True Crime Docuseries Review: Drug Lords

 Netflix's two season true crime series Drug Lords aired in 2018.  With a total of eight episodes, it is a look at the leaders of international drug trafficking gangs as well as some who were more localized.  There are be some very familiar names, such as El Chapo and Pablo Escobar, as well as some that I had never heard of, such as Autstralia's Pettinggill clan. 

Each episode focuses on a different person or organization, and some of the episodes have really great interviewees.  We are able to get the perspective of people who worked for the criminals, as well as major politicians and law enforcement personnel that were crucial to bringing these people to justice.

With larger cases, such as Escobar, El Chapo, and The Cali Cartel, there is no shortage of intriguing talking heads.  High ranking officials speak about how they had to deal with all of these major crime rings.  There are also interviews with the DEA agents that worked on the cases.

There feels like a bit of an imbalance across the episodes, though.  With the less known and more localized cases, the breadth of people interviewed is noticeably limited.  The stories of these people is interesting enough, but between a sometimes scattered narration and fewer talking heads of importance, they are far from the main draw.

This isn't the main issue with the series, however.  The over abundance of dramatic reenactments drags everything and comes across as amateurish.  Half of the time the actors who are cast to play real life people look nothing like those they are portraying.  There is absolute overkill in closeup shots of their faces, a technique I'm sure the directors believed would really add drama to the stories.  It didn't.  At all.  It was awful.

The heavy leaning on reenactments pulls the experience away from the mostly compelling narrative.  I am not a fan of this, but I know reenactments can just be part of watching true crime shows.  If it's used sparingly, it can avoid being distracting.  In the episodes about the smaller crime lords, it is more heavily used.  This is because there isn't really any news footage that can be utilized.  In the Pablo Escobar episode, for example, the amount of footage around this notorious villain and the terror he imposed is endless and the need for reenactments isn't the same as other episodes.

For a few of the episodes, the subjects themselves are interviewed for the series.  While I think it is neat that they were able to attain these interviews, it feels conflicting.  Having these people speak almost can feel like the person is being exalted and not appropriately being chastised.  One case, however, has a positive ending. Drug boss Jemeker Thompson did a complete 180 degree turn after completing her sentence.  She became involved in church and community, becoming a person who was actively trying to make her community and people's lives better.

Overall, I would say I found the stories interesting, but the presentation of some weren't to the same quality of others.  Perhaps there are four episodes that I could see myself rewatching down the road on a rainy day, but I won't be going through the entire two seasons.  Captivating stories are great, but when the presentation is lacking it isn't worth the time for me.  True crime fans may find this enjoyable, but for myself it just barely misses the mark.

Rating - 2.5 out of 4 stars