Film review: Diego Maradona by Asif Kapadia

Having been unable to watch Asif Kapadia’s Diego Maradona documentary at the cinema last summer I took the first opportunity I had watch it now it is available for purchase and it is fair to say it not disappoint.

I sat down, a product of my era, believing that Diego Armando Maradona is the second greatest football player ever to have walked the earth after his countryman Lionel Messi. My argument for this had always been that although Maradona succeeded where Messi (barring an unlikely Argentina triumph in Qatar in 2022) failed, he never had the club career that the Barcelona number ten has had and in terms of numbers this is correct. Maradona’s still exceptional career strike rate is slightly better than a goal every other game, Messi’s is close to a goal per game, however this documentary which focuses primarily on Maradona’s trophy-littered spell at Napoli, showed me just how wrong I was about Maradona’s supposedly inferior club career.

Through a combination of highly intimate footage and forthright subtitled interviews Kapadia tells the story of boy from the slums of Buenos Aires whose genius with a football supported his family from the age of 15, carried an unfancied national team World Cup glory and dragged Napoli from the perpetual doldrums into the most decorated period in their history.

The man we see rise to deity-like status in Argentina and Naples in much of the footage is a far cry from the apparently drug-addled maniac who we saw making obscene gestures at spectators from the stands during the 2018 World Cup. Young Diego is a man of the people with a zest for life and above of all, his football, who seems to revel in using his superior abilities to transform the fortunes of mediocre teams. At points throughout the film it appears that Maradona is less man and more superhero who having been circling the world at a thousand miles an hour heard the distant cry of Neapolitan people and touched down in Southern Italy ready to embark on his biggest mission yet. Napoli’s answer to Superman’s kryptonites become steadily more apparent as the documentary progressive however as the most talented player of his generation succumbs to temptation and excess along his path to glory. The documentary attempts to explain away these chapters in the story as the result of Argentine’s alter ego ‘Maradona’ whose brashness and tendency to take the law into his own hands threatens to eclipse the boy Diego’s pure-hearted attempts to bring joy to all those who follow Argentina and Napoli.

He succeeds on both fronts and although the fallout in the years that follow often makes for uncomfortable viewing, Maradona is undeniably a hero to both Argentina and Napoli combining unparalleled genius with a passion and dedication to bring glory to these two overlooked teams that is stirring to watch.

While we have at times seen stress born into the countenance of Lionel Messi when the weight of Argentinean expectation is on his shoulders, Maradona welcomes the pressure with open arms, embraces it warmly and walks out for the 1986 World Cup Final as an even mightier footballing behemoth than he was in the previous rounds.

True, Maradona did not have the strike rate at club level that Lionel Messi had, but what Maradona did at Napoli is akin to Lionel Messi in his prime turning up at Everton and refusing to leave the club until they are the dominant force in English football.

It is fairly certain to say that Messi’s powers will never be tested to this degree and that is why as brilliant as the current Argentina number ten is, I believe Maradona’s club career, at a closer glance, trumps him. For all the trophies, records and personal accolades Messi has racked up he is yet one more example of an exceptional player spending his career playing in exceptional teams, Maradona by contrast, did not do this, choosing instead to use his powers to liberate a fanatically-followed yet underachieving team from a deprived area to glory beyond its wildest dreams. Maybe I’m merely a fool who is too easily swayed by a well-made documentary, but in my opinion, it is Maradona’s decision to apply his greatness to raise up those around him who would have otherwise probably never had their day in the sun, that makes him still, the best football player ever to have walked the earth.

Rating: 4.5/5 – At times beautiful, at times disturbing, a fascinating and moving insight into the life of a troubled genius.

Film Review: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

I’d been looking forward to watching Once Upon A Time in Hollywood a while before its release date. Quentin Tarantino plus an all-star cast portraying life in the hills in the late sixties seemed about as safe a bet in the entertainment stakes as any film two hours and 45 minutes long could be.

But having been on holiday during its release in the UK by the time I came around to watching it myself the reviews from friends who had seen it were less than complimentary. ‘Disappointing’ and ‘a bit boring in places’ being the common words used in most verbal reviews I received.

On account of these reviews, I headed to the cinema with more trepidation than I otherwise would’ve done. Trepidation that to my relief, I found to be unwarranted. To me, Once Upon A Time in Hollywood was not boring, not in the slightest. Yet at the same time, I could understand why certain audiences might read it as such.

The story centres around the question of whether Leonardo Di Caprio’s character, Rick Dalton, the one-time star of a hit TV Western; can re-invent his flagging acting career, while his co-dependent and laidback stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) loiters around nonchalantly waiting on the results.

This storyline was enough to hold me and I particularly enjoyed the contrast between Dalton who seems to be perpetually on the verge of a mental breakdown over his uncertain future and Booth, who gives the impression that whatever ills befall him he will merely shrug his shoulders and get on with his life.

The biggest disappointment to me was Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate, or to be more accurate, the lack of significance Robbie’s character seemed to hold throughout the bulk of the movie.

It is not until the final scene that she seems to play any critical role in the story other than providing an extremely attractive distraction to the adventures of Dalton and Booth. In the end, her role in the story does become clear, however for the majority of the film her inclusion appears to be little more than a dated ‘insert female eye candy here’ manoeuvre, which I found disappointing for a film made in 2019.

Once Upon a Time In Hollywood was marketed as much on the triumvirate of talent that heads its cast, as it was as being Tarantino’s ninth film and yet the gravitas of Robbie’s character in comparison to Pitt’s and Di Caprio’s is laughable.

I’m aware the film is set in the 1960s and I’m no expert on Sharon Tate, maybe all she did was smile, dance around and look sexy, but to me her role in the story (especially given Tarantino’s connections with Harvey Weinstein) was hardly a hearty endorsement of the post-“Me Too” era.

Tarantino has earnt the right to do what he wants of course, but from a personal point of view, I would like to have seen more of Robbie as an actress in her role as Tate. We all know she is pretty, but why not give her something mildly important to do as well Quentin?

Although I do not share their view, I did find a degree of validity in my friends’ criticism that the film is dull in places. There are certain re-enactments of sixties TV shows which I’m sure Tarantino with encyclopaedic knowledge of movies through the decades, Hollywood and the business that surrounds it, found hilarious but I couldn’t help but feeling as I sat in the silent cinema, that I, everyone else in the room and millions more around the world with much more flimsy knowledge of American film and TV in the 1960s were likely to be missing the punchline.

Despite the tumbleweed moments dotted sporadically about the cinema, there was enough to keep me entertained while Tarantino lined up all of his ducks ahead of the climax.

And when that climax hit it was well worth enduring the duller moments of the previous two hours: the scene exploding into a unique cocktail of chaos that Tarantino has always had a knack for creating.

For those wondering why the climax is so unique, I will simply tell you that it features a cigarette dipped in acid, a ferocious dog, a group of murderous hippies and a copious dollop of characteristically absurd Tarantino violence. This scene was Tarantino at his best as he once again demonstrated his gift for projecting situations you are unlikely ever to see again onto the screen.

The denouement following the chaos was less thrilling but wholly satisfying, as I left the cinema not only sure how Dalton and Booth’s futures would pan out but finally clear (after spending the best part of two hours wondering) what the purpose of Sharon Tate’s inclusion in the movie was.

Overall my view of Once Upon a Time In Hollywood is that it probably didn’t quite live up to the hype was inevitably going to surround it given that the status of its cast coupled with Tarantino’s pull as a director. But neither was it dull and a complete failure as several people had tried to tell me.

My overriding emotion when it comes to Once Upon a Time In Hollywood is that it is not Pulp Fiction (probably nothing ever will be) but like everything Tarantino has done before it, it stands up as a credible vignette in his body of work. Anyone enamoured with Hollywood and the 1960s will probably think this is the most wonderful piece of film-making they have ever seen and I’m happy to acknowledge that if I knew more about the period the film is set in my viewing experience would have probably been sizably enhanced.

But alas, I do not and that is why Once Upon a Time in Hollywood to me, is simply a good film and nothing more.

 

Rating: 3.5/5

Worth going to see, but maybe lower your expectations a touch. The film was always going to have to go some to live up to the hype that surrounded it.