Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar is one of the most notorious criminals in recent history. His wealth, infamy, and violence painted a massive target on his back for both law enforcement and rival cartels. Also with his sights on the cartel leader was Scottish mercenary and former SAS soldier Peter McAleese, who, alongside a small band of ex-special forces, was hired by a drug cartel to assassinate him. David Whitney’s Killing Escobar recounts this untold story in the words of McAleese (now 78) and other key players involved in the operation from both sides of the conflict.
Digging into McAleese’s rough upbringing and his years spent fighting in bloody battles around the world, violence is the core theme of this film. McAleese makes it clear that he has no regret or guilt surrounding his actions, or the blood he’s spilled during his military career, though he reflects on whether his emotionally distant father and youth spent in drunken brawls had a part to play in the character he became. There’s ample room for a thoughtful character study here, with McAleese articulating his years of experience in a way only a Glaswegian can, and Whitney makes a notable effort in bringing these issues to the fore as he expounds the mercenary’s story.
It is downright baffling, then, that the documentary is more concerned with glorifying the laddish behaviour of the men than committing to the character study and crime drama it wants to be. Harrowing reconstructions of McAleese’s struggle for survival after the mission went wrong (a moment used as a narrative device to frame his tale) are juxtaposed with anecdotes about drinking and the ridiculous sums they were being paid, a move that gives the impression this secretive mission was more like a lads’ holiday. Likewise, the dramatic reconstructions are simply bad: a group of people running around with toy guns and a smoke machine doesn’t establish a tone that fits the story being told.
Killing Escobar misses the target by a mile. It should have been a story of survival, camaraderie and violence. Instead, it’s a group of veterans reliving the glory days while acting as hard as they can for the camera.
Killing Escobar does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Glasgow Film Festival 2021 coverage here.
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Watch the trailer for Killing Escobar here: