Maradona is the modern equivalent of a Greek tragedy. An extraordinarily talented hero rises to fame and glory. But ultimately, he is defeated by his own fatal flaws – hubris, insecurity, a weak will. To watch the legendary footballer go from a handsome, strapping athlete to an overweight, teary cocaine addict is heartbreaking. Asif Kapadia’s documentary is a deep-dive into the magic of football and the frailty, not just of one man but the species.
This film is the third in what has been called the ‘tragic fame documentary trilogy.’ The first two are Senna and the Oscar-winning Amy. These films immerse us into the lives of individuals who were marked by genius and tragedy. Over three films, Asif has created and honed a signature style of recreating lives purely through astutely curated archival footage and voice-overs. There are no talking heads or re-enactments. Nobody tells you that Maradona was ferocious on the field. You see it.
And it is a sight to behold. I don’t know anything about football so the nuances of the game were lost on me. But to see Maradona guide a ball, with the grace of a ballerina and the precision of a missile, is a thing of beauty. You appreciate it as you would a great work of art. But this film is about so much more than football.
It starts in 1984, when the player is bought by Napoli, the poorest and weakest team in Italy. At his first press conference, Maradona is asked about the local mafia. But the team doesn’t remain an underdog for long. Maradona propels it to number one status and in the process, becomes a deity. As one local puts it, “You can’t criticize God.” In 1986, the boy who grew up in a Buenos Aires slum wins the World Cup trophy for Argentina. Through this spectacular ascent, you see the pressures operating on this lone man and the shadows that will eventually derail his glorious career. But even the derailing is spectacular – drugs, mafia, a son he refused to acknowledge for 30 years, tabloid mania, screaming fans, nightclubs, prostitutes, wire-tapping and absolute, gut-wrenching despair. At one point, we see him at a Christmas party in Naples, gazing distantly, almost as though he realized that the good times were over.
After the 1986 win, a sports expert described Maradona as ‘a little bit of cheating and a lot of genius.’ Which pretty much summarizes his life. This is a moving, emotionally charged cautionary tale. I highly recommend that you see it