Killing Escobar

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Killing Escobar
"For all the wealth of material here, it's ultimately the human story at its centre that makes the film so compelling." | Photo: Courtesy of Glasgow Film Festival

So you've decided to take out one of the world's most powerful drug lords. Despite his crimes. he's a popular man in the region where he lives. The local authorities are not willing to arrest him. His home is a literal fortress filled with loyal, well paid bodyguards toting machine guns. What do you do? Hire a Glaswegian.

If you met Peter McAleese down the pub and he told you he'd once let an expedition through the Colombian jungle to kill Pablo Escobar, you'd assume he was full of shit - just another action man fantasist whose combat experience is limited to flailing punch-ups on street corners. In this case, though, you'd be wrong. He may be an old man now, swollen up with diabetes, suffering from arthritis and walking with a cane, but his past exploits are well documented. And this film isn't quite what you'd expect either. Whilst the boys' own adventure aspects of his tale are gripping enough, the lessons he has taken from it all are much more mature. Working as a hired assassin for a cartel has, curiously, left him a much less violent man.

It's not something that persons of influence like to talk about these days, but Glasgow's tough reputation came about for a reason. Growing up in the shadow of Barlinnie with a mostly absent father who was constantly caught up in violence when he was around, Peter quickly learned to look after himself. Defending his bullied brother led to fighting for the fun of it, and only after ending up in jail himself did he realise that this might not be a great strategy in life. So he cleaned himself up and joined the military, and learned the skills that would give his hard man reputation real commercial value.

Talking about it now, to camera, Peter isn't proud, but he doesn't waste his time getting upset about the things he's done either. He's matter of fact with a measure of squaddie humour, enjoying sharing some of his wilder tales and seeing the funny side of things where he can. He has a gift for storytelling which means that writer/director David Whitney don't need to do much more than put flesh on the bones. This is done using footage from the mi9sson itself, never before seen, as well as interviews with other surviving members of the mercenary team and their liaison in the Cali cartel. Some of these men may already be familiar to viewers due to their involvement with Netflix's Narcos, and fans of that series will not want to miss this film.

For all the wealth of material here, it's ultimately the human story at its centre that makes the film so compelling. The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley, and just as the mission played out very differently from what Peter had imagined, so the course of his own life took an unexpected route - one which seems to have done him good. Whitney's documentary has all the elements of a great action movie but is more powerful for its truth. For all its underlying brutality and its philosophical moments, it's a ripping yarn.

Reviewed on: 27 Feb 2021
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The untold story of the attempted assassination of Pablo Escobar, while at the height of his powers, by a small team of elite mercenaries.

Director: David Whitney

Writer: David Whitney

Year: 2021

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: UK

Festivals:

Glasgow 2021

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