Documenting the life of infamous drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, El Chapo is an engrossing, fast paced and often violent ride through the underworld of drug trafficking. Beginning with Chapo’s rise to power and ending with his eventual downfall, this 9 part crime series does a great job of depicting this notorious man’s life, even if it does feel more like a political thriller at times. Although there are snippets of empathy felt toward this notorious man, for the most part El Chapo’s narrative does a great job of depicting this despicable, cunning drug kingpin as a criminal rather than a hero.
The story takes place across 4 decades but predominantly settles in the 80s and 90s, showing El Chapo rising to power and asserting his dominance over the Mexican drug trade. As the series progresses, the government and other drug lords turn against him as he lusts for more power and what ensues is a frenetically paced, cat and mouse struggle to apprehend and arrest this drug lord. There’s a good dose of back story thrown in too, with numerous scenes depicting El Chapo’s two wives and the government officials chasing him in equal doses. This back and forth perspective between the government and El Chapo works well, even if there are times where the tunnelled focus of the series careers off track a little.
One episode early on sees the same 3 days retold from different perspectives ending in a shootout in an airport and although well shot and engrossing, stands out, feeling more like an artistic boast than actually enhancing to the viewing experience. The finale feels a little anticlimactic too, predominantly taking place in El Chapo’s childhood to show how he got into the trade. Although the final scenes leave the door wide open for the inevitable second season, this episode does feel a little too sombre, given the hard hitting nature the rest of the episodes have and may well have benefited the flow of the series had it been placed earlier in the first season to understand El Chapo’s true motivations.
Of course, with this being a Spanish speaking series the best way to experience this crime thriller is inevitably in the native tongue. Although the English dubbing is surprisingly not awful, to really capture the essence of the stellar acting throughout, its highly recommended that you watch this in Spanish with subtitles. Marco de la O perfectly captures the silent, cunning aura of El Chapo too in a captivating, scene-stealing performance. That’s not to take away from the rest of the actors who all do a good job for the most part but its ultimately Marco de la O that stands out here.
On the surface, El Chapo looks like a carbon copy of Narcos and to begin with, it does share some similarities with that show. Where El Chapo excels though is in its narrative that dives far deeper, turning into more of a political thriller with its cat and mouse game between El Chapo and the authorities that takes centre stage for most of the series. There’s a distinct Mexican flavour to this show too and everything from the soundtrack, visuals and behaviour of the characters is authentic enough to really bring you into this dark, crime-fuelled world. El Chapo is a solid crime thriller and highly enjoyable from start to finish. It may not be perfect, but there’s enough here to get excited about and with the promise of a second season, it’ll be interesting to see where they take this after the open ending El Chapo finishes with.
Verdict - 8/10