To an unfamiliar audience, Griselda Blanco is introduced through Pablo Escobar. With a quote about how even he feared coming across Griselda, the Netflix mini-series sets up a premise for this mythical figure whose mere presence is enough to enthral the audience. However, the genius of Sofía Vergara, who plays Griselda, lies in the fact that she rarely limits herself to this set-up.
Set in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Griselda follows the rise of the infamous drug kingpin as she sets up her illegal empire in the heart of Miami. On the run from her husband, who heads a Colombian cartel, Griselda flees the country and relocates to Miami with her three sons. A kilo of drugs, which she deems her ticket to some easy cash in Miami, soon transforms into truckloads as Griselda cements her own identity in the business.
By all accounts, the show is a routine glimpse into the journey of the underdog who overcomes all odds. The directorial choices made by Andrés Baiz, and the ones that Sofía Vergara makes in her portrayal of Griselda, are what elevate the show to be an efficient and entertaining watch.
Griselda (Spanish, English)
Director: Andrés Baiz
Cast: Sofía Vergara, Alberto Guerra, Martin Rodriguez, Juliana Aidén Martinez, and others
Runtime: 50 minutes – 1 hour
Storyline: In 1980s Miami, Griselda Blanco rises through the ranks to create one of the most nefarious drug empire
The limited runtime of only six episodes forces the script to tighten its focus to the period when Griselda was at her peak. We are not privy to too many details of Griselda’s past and are not shown her future. This risk could have resulted in an untethered character, but is averted by a combination of factors.
Starting, and focusing, on Griselda’s journey as a middle-aged woman, a mother of three, adds a unique dimension to her underdog story. The script’s pace, which tends to speed up or imply the nitty-gritty of Grisela’s business, allows Vergara to slow down with her character, and here she does her best work.
Vergara plays Griselda over only six episodes but inhabits the character with an intuitive understanding. This is visible in small and big ways. When escaping to Miami, Grisela suffers a gunshot wound that is never again shown on screen, but Vergara, through her movements, does not let you forget the fact that she left hurt and injured. She does this on a larger scale as she transitions from a desperate mother to a successful and confident drug lord, who then finally becomes frantic and paranoid at the thought of losing power. Vergara balances her overconfidence with a lingering vulnerability, prioritising one over the other as required by the scene.
She is also joined by an impressive Juliana Aidén Martinez, who plays the police officer June Hawkins. Hawkins ends up serving as a socio-legal foil to Griselda, as both women struggle to be taken seriously in their respective male-dominated set-ups.
There is a tendency, with characters such as Pablo Escobar, to not only exaggerate their truth but also dissolve their mundaneness. Vergara moves beyond that to display Griselda through multiple stages, while not assigning her the finite personality of a dreaded genius criminal. The show is by no means to be approached as an informative biopic. It is a derived, dramatic version of events, and though it tends to favour its dramatic genre, there is more than enough narrative heft to tide you through.
Griselda is currently streaming on Netflix
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