Review | Drug Lords

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: January 20, 2018 (Last updated: December 16, 2023)
Drug Lords - Netflix - Documentary Series - Review

Netflix offers another inside look. This time it’s at the stories of some of the most infamous and dangerous drug lords in the narcotic pantheon. Netflix already delved into the details of the drug game with the critically acclaimed series Narcos. 

Now they’re bringing the facts. It’s a compelling documentary series explaining how these drug lords came to be, and what came of them.

The series’ first compilation of criminals includes names such as Pablo Escobar and The Cali Cartel. (Both of whom play a role in the Netflix original Narcos.) Also featured are Frank Lucas and The Pettingill Clan.

What don’t we know already?

Soon following the success of Narcos, Mike Welsh, executive producer, pitched the documentary series. It was intended as a support piece detailing lives of drug lords. Some of those were featured as characters in the show. The only trouble was, how could they tell a story that audiences haven’t already heard? One about the scandalous criminals, famed for their notoriety?

Drug Lords delivers a series that not only covers the facts, but takes them straight from the horse’s mouth.

With a nod to the Rashomon effect, this documentary series is compiled of accounts from all sides of the coin. Often, there’s an intriguing and conflicting recollection of events. The series boasts talks from the authorities that worked on the cases. But also from the henchmen, and in some cases the reformed drug lords themselves. This supplies the audience with a collection of versions. They often conflict, but that encourages discussion and leaves you impartial to the people you see, all seemingly with some sort of skewed and deranged moral explanation to their actions.

Is it worth our time to hear the same old stories?

It is true that all of the drug lords included in the series have been extensively covered. Other documentaries and many big-screen adaptations have covered this round. Without excluding Escobar and the Cali Cartel in Netflix’s own Narcos, it also includes Frank Lucas as the inspiration for the film American Gangster. And the Pettingill Clan is not amiss as the inspiration for the film Animal Kingdom. 

With this in mind, I still think it is safe to say that Drug Lords reveals and exposes the truths we’ve always wanted to know. Such as the path that Pablo Escobar took to escape the police from his private prison through the foggy mountains of Columbia, confidently mapped out by the hitman who followed in his footsteps. Or Kath Pettingill, the matriarch of the Pettingill Clan, as she explains her side of the story of how a woman became a force to be reckoned with in a world dominated by men.

Safe to say this personal approach to the facts lends itself to a fascinating watch. It’s tactic that certainly makes sure that Drug Lords stands out in a crowd of already-established drug lord documentaries.

Does Drug Lords bring anything new to the crime documentary style we have come to know?

Mostly Drug Lords does, in fact, come with the same standard techniques that we have come to expect from crime documentaries. With a strong and typically confident American voiceover and the combination of news footage and slightly cheesy re-enactments, some may accuse the series of being nothing new and certainly not experimental. Although I did wish for a difference in format, I actually found that the familiar approach to documentaries, juxtaposed with the subjects being compiled of the actual criminals and their assistants, gave for an unsettling experience; providing the audience with all too casual explanations of the abhorrent crimes from seemingly approachable people.


In turn, Drug Lords offers a tantalising array of stories of unlawful and vicious crimes from those who were there on the day. I would highly recommend Drug Lords to crime fanatics and casual documentary viewers alike. With the shocking tellings from the subjects themselves and the satisfactory balance of fact, the audience is expected to make up their own minds. I have made up mine and I implore you to watch and do the same.

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