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MOVIES: Diego Maradona - Review



Diego Maradona is one of the most controversial figures in football history and almost every fan will have their own opinion on him. On the pitch he was one of the greatest players ever despite - or even in part because of - the mythology surrounding his "Hand of God" antics at the 1986 World Cup against England, which are shown along with the dazzling brilliance of that second goal and the resulting uniqueness of the accompanying commentary, but off the pitch, particularly in the later years of his Napoli career, his attachment to organised crime and addiction to cocaine, coupled with his bad image in the press, caused his reputation to plummet.

The film draws upon over 500 hours worth of found footage to weave an utterly compelling narrative that feels more like a gangster film with football elements than a football film with gangster elements, classics of the genre like The Untouchables are namedropped. Its pace is electrifying and it almost feels like a thriller. It's part of the brilliance of Asif Kapadia - responsible for one of the best sports documentaries ever, Senna, that you are fully invested in the film, the first of his works to use both the first and second name of their subject - by the end of the film. It's easy to see why this decision not to simply call it Maradona was made too, as we soon learn - Diego and Maradona are two different people.

The gangster elements of the film play out like a thriller, there's an opening car chase sequence that feels something more what you'd expect in a fictionalised narrative than a real one, and there are echoes of the rags to riches and then fall from grace storylines prevalent in films like Goodfellas, and it almost feels like that film could be labelled as a direct comparison. It's no coincidence to see that Kapadia is extremely gifted in both documentaries and narrative work, with a history of treading the line between the two mediums, having also worked with David Fincher to direct episodes three and four of the first season of the Netflix series Mindhunter. His style is evident here, getting the best out of the key historical scenes. The "Hand of God" sequence feels like an event rather than something brushed over in a montage and plays out like one of the film's more crucial moments, never understating the importance as the build-up and flashbacks to the Falklands War make the Argentina vs. England game feel like round two.

Another game that had such an impact is the Italy/Argentina at the 1990 World Cup. By then, Maradona was at the peak of his powers and fame, regarded as a God by the people of Naples, who had overseen their rise to fame. By exploring much of the football culture of the Neapolitans and their obsessiveness with the sport, the film sees them question their allegiance between country and player as both teams meet in the semi-final. Setting the game in Naples would be a bit too far-fetched for a real life event and it's almost hard to believe that it happened here, and it's even stated that it shouldn't have gone ahead in that location in the documentary, but it did, and the consequences are very much big, life-changing ones.

Kapadia's sports documentary is utterly riveting and one that can be watched regardless of whether or not you're a fan of football. It's completely accessible and completely unmissable. As one of the best films of the year - you could do far worse at the cinemas this weekend.


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