Only watch Maradona (2019) for the football

Diego Maradona (2019)

Before there was Messi, there was Maradona. Asif Kapadia’s Diego Maradona is an extraordinary football film in its collection of Maradona’s greatest hits: his passes and shots as well as the violence perpetrated upon him by opponents. In extensive footage, time and time again Maradona throws off tackles like a dog shaking off raindrops. There is not a single moment where he looks ordinary on the field. Even his juggling during practice is something I had never seen before.

Much has been written and filmed about Diego Maradona, and Kapadia focuses on the star’s run in Naples. Maradona brings championships to Napoli, but his career begins to collapse with Argentina’s defeat of Italy in the semi-final of WC 1990, in Napoli’s home stadium. After that, fans are outraged, and the mafia, the club, and the league stop shielding the player’s off-field transgressions. He is prosecuted on charges of drug-dealing and using prostitutes. He fails a post-game drug test and is banned from soccer for a year, virtually ending his playing career.

The source of the film

At Napoli, Maradona’s agent planned to make a movie about him and had videographers follow him everywhere, producing 500 hours of film. Kapadia has said that “Taking footage and reinterpreting it, giving it back, I realized that’s what I do.” The result includes footage where Diego trains like a fiend under Fernando Signorini, maintaining a 200 beats/min heart rate that helps him to excel when necessary. Perhaps it also enables him to burn off his Sunday-to-Wednesday cocaine binges and to be in shape for the following Sunday game.

Kapadia has said how difficult it was to do his first biographical film where the subject was still alive. The sad thing about this film is that it feels so much like an obituary. The first 90 minutes are about Diego’s rise and the last 45 minutes are about Maradona’s fall. In the last 45, the movie becomes as bloated as its star, who balloons to virtually twice his size. In the end, I was clamoring for less.

A Cheat and a Genius

The film laments that Maradona’s life, his career, and he the man, are defined by two words: a cheat and a genius. Before watching this movie, I knew of the cheat and the addict but I knew little of the greatness. I was truly mesmerized by his talent. It was wonderful to be able to see such examples of footballing genius, even though the footage is quite grainy. That he recovered from such an ankle-breaking tackle is mind-boggling in itself. So watch this film for the football. The drama was informative but not compelling.

In English, Spanish, and Italian with English subtitles

7 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 7