Riphagen: The Untouchable

 

This film, entitled Riphagen: The Untouchable is the story of one Andries Riphagen. As the film begins we met Dries, as he is called by some, accompanied by another man. They arrive at a home in Amsterdam in The Netherlands. It is some time in 1944.

They ask the homeowners if they are hiding any Jews. When an older woman is discovered behind a false wall, Riphagen (played by Jeroen van Koningsbrugge) tells her can help her. She will have to turn over all her valuables in exchange for a safe passage out of Amsterdam. She says she has no valuables.

But Riphagen finds a packet of diamonds hidden in her hair. He promises to return all of her jewels and diamonds after the war. He will need to take about 10 of the diamonds to satisfy the Germans who think that he is indeed working for them.

He tells this woman and other Jews that he is working with the Dutch Resistance and he can get them safely out of Amsterdam.

So, we are faced with this question: Is Riphagen a hero, or is he a traitor to his fellow Dutch people. Said another way is Riphagen an Oscar Schindler or is he something else?

This film was originally a three-part tv mini-series. Netflix thought that these three parts could be merged and made into a film. So you can see it with a Netflix streaming account.

I watched this film for the premise seemed intriguing. I’ve been to Amsterdam, and loved the place; so seeing it again was an idea I couldn’t resist. Of course Amsterdam in 1944 would not be the same as the Amsterdam where I spent some time in 2015.

Obviously, the Amsterdam in the film is not the one I remember from a year and half ago. In fact I watched for about 45 minutes before seeing even a hint of a canal. Maybe that is because a good portion of the film was shot in the Dutch city Utrecht which has an older and more historical look to it whereas Amsterdam has a much more modern look. Having said that, I can state that the topic of the film is a familiar topic – The Holocaust – albeit this story is told from a different angle and from a different perspective.

I must say that Jeroen van Koningsbrugge about whom you might say appears in this film as a version of the 70″s and 80’s actor Telly Savalas in appearance, gives a more than credible performance as the anti-Schindler.

As for the rest of the cast, I knew none of them, but found most them excellent with one exception – the character of Wim Sanders as played by Michel Sluysmans.

The two-hour plus film has a good crisp look to it. There’s not a preponderance of night scenes, or rain-drenched, or foggy scenes either.

The costume designer has done a wonderful job in recreating both the men and women suits and dresses of the time.

Also for the record, the automobiles used gave the definite sense of Europe in the 40’s as we saw both German and French cars.

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Call My Agent! aka Dix pour Cent

 

In real life, and at the top of the list of Film Talent Agencies we have the CAA (Creative Artist Agency), and WME (William Morris Endeavor). And there a few hundred more. Narrowing our focus to just one agent, from television, specifically the HBO show Entourage, we have the fictional super-agent Ari Gold.

dix-pour-cent-dix-pour-cent-staffel-1-1

Now let me add one agency to our discussion.

Also from television, French TV specifically, via Netflix, we have the fictional agency known all over Paris as ASK. Which is the acronym for the boutique film talent agency Samuel Kerr.

ASK is a small shop set up in a swanky 1st Arrondissiment location – just four agents (all firm partners) with assistants, a receptionist,

The receptionist Sofi played by Stefi Celma

The receptionist Sofi played by Stefi Celma

a senior partner,  plus a billing/accounting department to keep track of money both in and out. There’s a press department, and finally there’s a legal department that checks that all the t’s are crossed and the i’s dotted in all the contracts. Then add in an ingenue – she’s just been hired as an assistant to a tough agent.boss who’s previous assistant has just walked out in frustration just minutes before.

I’m really talking about another new series on Netflix and another new series from overseas. Netflix is calling it Call My Agent! In France, they called it Dix pour Cent or (in English – 10 Per Cent.). Between you and me, this comedy series (6 episodes of an hour each) is a lot of laughs and a joy to watch.

The neat element they use, probably lifted from Entourage, is that each of the episodes centers around real-life French film stars playing themselves. Of course there are issues to contend with and our bunch of agents can go crazy trying to resolve each one.

Take Episode 1 called Cecile. The Cecile in question is Cecile De France. She is soon to appear in the upcoming HBO series, The Young Pope which begins on January 15th. Cecile plays opposite Jude Law in TYP. In this episode, she’s a major film star and is up for a role in Tarantino’s next film, and she is late for a photo shoot. Her agent, Gabriel Sarda, played by Gregory Montel,  is frantically trying to reach her.

Cecile is out in the suburbs taking a horse riding lesson, as in the Tarantino film she will have to ride a horse. She’s told everyone that, Oui, I can ride, but that’s false.

As if that wasn’t enough of a problem, Gabriel, her agent, gets a text that Tarantino has decided that Cecile is too old for the part, so they are not going to sign her for the movie. Sarda is of course devastated. So much so, that he can’t bring himself to tell Cecile.

Naturally that sets the carousel in motion. Cecile will fire Gabriel as her agent, and hire another partner at ASK, one Matthias Barneville,

Thibault de Montalembert as Matthias

Thibault de Montalembert as Matthias

who has used some threats about getting the licenses to shoot in Paris approved to persuade one of Tarantino’s producers to agree to get Cecile’s role back.

The ingenue was the one who leaked the news to Cecile about why Tarantino passing on Cecile

The ingenue was the one who leaked the news to Cecile about why Tarantino is passing on Cecile for the role.

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Tokyo Trial

Formally, it was called The International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE). Convened in late April, 1946, the purpose of this trial, also known as the Tokyo Trial, was to try the leaders of Japan for three kinds of war crimes.

Netflix, in conjunction with the Japanese TV Network called NHK, Don Carmody Television, and FATT Productions, has made this mini-series (4 episodes) available to its streaming service subscribers.

General Douglas MacArthur appointed 12 judges (the 12th was a replacement as one judge left to return home. These judges came from 11 countries – Australia, Canada, China, France, India, Netherlands, New Zealand, Philippines, UK., USA. and the Soviet Union.

The expectation was that the trial would last about 6 months. Instead it lasted 2 1/2 years, or about 1000 days.

MacArthur not only agreed to prosecute 28 Japanese leaders but he also approved the Charter which gave the Tribunal the right to prosecute the Japanese.

They would be charged in three categories.

  1. Crimes of Aggression
  2. Crimes against humanity
  3. Conventional war crimes

Using the Nuremberg Trials as the precedent, the President of the Tribunal,  Sir William Webb from Australia, believed that they had the moral authority as well as the legal authority to try to convict the Japanese. Item # 1 would prove to be both a stumbling block as well as a controversial point in their judicial discussions.

Webb was played by Tim Ahern in this production.

The item #1 – Crimes of Aggression – was also known as Crimes against peace. The concept of this was to charge the top Japanese leaders with: leading, organizing, instigating, or being accomplices in the formulation or execution of a common plan or conspiracy to wage wars of aggression, and war or wars in violation of international law.

Said another way – this concept was the opposite of a self-defensive war effort.

The first of the justices to step up and disagree was the Indian Rabhabinod Pal, a Judge on the Calcutta High Court. He argued, in a lengthy dissenting opinion (over 1200 pages) that a) At the time of the crimes, there was no international law against waging an ‘aggressive’ war. The basics of that was the Japanese were being charged retroactively. He also argued that b) the argument of the prosecution was quite weak with regard to the conspiratorial aspects of waging an aggressive war, and c) there was nothing to show that these crimes were a product of government policy or that the Japanese government officials were directly responsible for the atrocities committed (like the events in Nanking, China, or the maltreatment and abuse of POWs).

Indian actor Irrfan Khan had the role of Justice Pal.

Also in the trenches (at least in the pre-verdict discussions) with Judge Pal was the Law Professor from New Utrecht University in the Netherlands, Professor Bert Röling.

Dutch actor Marcel Hensema played Röling.

On the other side of the ledger, meaning those who argued (most strenuously in favor of the prosecution)  were the Scottish Judge, The Honorable Lord Patrick, the Chinese Judge, Mei ju-ao, and the Canadian, Edward Stuart McDougall, Justice of the Court of King’s Bench of Quebec. In today’s terms, they would be called the hawks.

Paul Freeman played Lord Patrick.

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The Break aka La Treve – Now On Netflix

Have you ever been to or driven through the Ardennes?

Do you know where the Ardennes are? Though I knew the name, I had to look them up to be able to place them on a map. The Ardennes are a hilly and forested area that is mostly in South East Belgium. but also included a part of Northern France and Luxembourg.

The Ardennes, specifically the small town of Heiderfeld, Belgium is the location of a new offering from Netflix. The original title was La Treve which is French for ‘The Truce’, but Netflix has chosen to call this 10 episode series ‘The Break’.

In fact La Treve’s English translation can almost mean something like:

A break in the hostilities
A respite
A ceasefire
or peace.

Which fits the series exactly. Here’s a version of the story line for La Treve:

The body of 19-year-old Driss Assani, above, who is a young African from Togo, recruited to play soccer for the Heiderfeld football club,

is pulled out of the river Semois, a short distance from Heiderfeld, a small town of a few thousand inhabitants in the Belgian Ardennes. The police investigation is led by Inspector Yoann Peeters, who has recently moved there after a personal domestic tragedy and a professional one as well. Peeters is aided by Sebastian Drummer, an idealistic and inexperienced young police officer.

Left to Right: Peeters, Drummer, and the bearded Police Chief.

Left to Right: Peeters, Drummer, and the bearded Police Chief.

Peeters is adamant that the death was not a suicide, as in a leap from the local bridge. That’s Peeters on the bridge in the image below.

The suicide idea was formulated by the local chief of police, who, likely – above all other considerations, wanted to keep the peace, close the case, and not stir things up.

At this point, there’s a flash forward, and we find that Detective Peeters is in a psychiatric hospital and is under going an evaluation. We have no idea why.

And that is the basis for the series. It is sort of like a TV series told in separate layers:

The Present time: The murder investigation as led by Peeters
The Past: The fact of how Driss was killed is shown in different perspectives as new suspects come into play
The Future: Peeters is in a psych ward.

I kind of liked the show as it seemed to be drawn from the British series Broadchurch. In the British show, a new cop came into a British coastal town with some baggage which included a problematic situation as a policeman in another jurisdiction, Yoann Peters is in the same situation as he headed up the disastrous Operation Berger, which led to four police officers being killed in Brussels.

Peeters is played by an actor called Yoann Blanc. Peeters is intense and driven, to put it mildly. In addition, he is popping antidepressants and amphetamines. It is obvious that while he seems over his wife’s passing, and the infamous Operation Berger, the affair in Brussels, externally – in reality, he’s still a struggling work in progress.

But if only it was just a lead detective struggling to solve a case, and overcome his personal demons at the same time. Heiderfeld is a small town but there’s a lot going on beneath the surface. In no particular order there’s the issue of teenage drug use and sex, an ambitious dam project that will require some locals to give up their lands and homes, a crooked soccer coach who has a history of fixing games, and the soccer players are still waiting for their signing bonuses.

There’s a hermit like guy who lives in the woods. He’s called Indian Jeff and he is who the police like as the killer. Then we have a young man, the son of diplomats, who throws wild parties involved sex and drugs. There’s an older fellow who has his own museum of Nazi paraphernalia and artifacts. Let’s not forget a woman who twenty years prior was Peeter’s girl friend.

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Four Seasons in Havana

Detective Conde: I’m too fucking nostalgic…
Karina: How decadent…
Detective Conde: Decadence is what fucked up Havana

That’s a bit of the dialogue from Episode 1 f the 4 part series that Netflix has introduced to us just a few weeks ago. The series is called Four Seasons in Havana, and the star, as Detective Conde is Jose Perugoria.

The basics are straightforward. Homicides happen and homicides need to be solved.

The title of the first episode is The Winds Of Lent. The skinny is this: There’s been a brutal murder of a young high school teacher. Conde is on the case and as he works through it, he becomes aware that this teacher taught at the very high school that Conde went to.

As the story expands, we are going to discover the involvement of a drug dealer, some possible police corruption, how important is loyalty, the truth does matter, and that our lead detective falls in love far too quickly.

The series begins this way: It is night-time in Havana but more like in the last few hours before sunrise. There’s some smoke and it seems to becoming from a few separate block. A fire? Not at all. This is just a fumigation truck spraying something into the atmosphere.

But that can only hold your interest for just so long. We need something else. How about this?

 

A woman and a car. Who is she? We have no idea.

A man enters the scene. He asks if she needs some help with the car which has a left front tire that needs to be changed. We have no idea who he is either. But we will come to learn that he is Lieutenant Conde, a homicide cop.

Later, or is it the next day – the homicide dicks get a call about a murder. Conde goes there as does the forensics officer. There are some available clues – Marijuana in the ash tray, a packet of four tabs of methamphetamine under the bed. Attempts were made to wipe away finger prints. The woman was beaten, raped, and then choked to death.

And there was more, Semen was found in the vagina and a used condom was found in the bathroom. The forensic analysis reports that the semen samples came from two different men.

Conde tries to gain some information or insights to the case so he goes to the high school to ask some questions. None of the students will talk to him – as Conde is a cop.

So it looks like Conde has run into a stone wall. The higher-ups down at Police HQ want results and fast.

Conde will seek some help from an old friend of his from the neighborhood. A guy named Red. Conde asks him to get him some intel.

Red: Asking questions will get me killed
Conde: You don’t have to ask, just keep your eyes open…

The series is set in Havana in the 1990’s. This was the period that was the most difficult for Cuba. The economic sanctions as well as the isolated status of Cuba made living conditions difficult. People lacked so much that their main passions were limited to food, music, and sex.

This Havana, though filled with color and ambience is kind of a bleak place. Detective Conde and his brother and a few other friends all remember the Revolution and the bright promises made by Castro and company. Now they are in their late forties and their disappointment with the Cuba they live  in, rather than the Cuba they had hoped for, is not only apparent, but is more than a feeling. It imbues every aspect of life.

Conde’s brother was wounded in the war in Angola and no longer has the use of legs which is of course a difficult reminder of the Cuba that had failed at that time.

Any way, I’d rather not give away too much of either the first episode of the three that follow. This mini-series has been billed as the first Caribbean Noir. Directed by Felix Viscarret, and adapted from the novels penned by Leonardo Padura, the series oozes atmosphere, color, and vivid characters.

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Dicte: Season 3 now Available on Netflix

In case you hadn’t noticed, the 3rd season of Dicte is out and available on Netflix streaming. Dicte in seasons 1 and 2 was a reporter for the Aarhus (Denmark) Dag Bladet internet newspaper. Well, this season, she (Dicte is played by Iben Hjejle) begins the season with her wedding to Bo.

She’s no longer on staff with newspaper, no doubt because she’s writing a book, and secondly – the paper’s management has turned over. Dicte’s friends Detective John Wagner and Linda Bendtsen of the Aarhus police return,

as does Dicte’s daughter Rosa, her best friend Anne Skov Larsen, and Dicte’s ex-husband Torsten.

Bo and Dicte have to postpone their honeymoon as he has to travel to Lebanon on assignment. Something serious will happen to Bo and this will change the entire series in Season 3. Bo is kidnapped and a huge ransom is necessary.

Dicte doesn’t have the money demanded – a million US so she’s forced to look up her biological father who is a wealthy industrialist. She’s under a lot of stress and finally confesses what is going on to John Wagner.

Soon shocking news arrives. A body is being brought back from Lebanon and Dicte is called to the airport to identify the body.

Readers, that is about as far as I will take you in so far as introducing Season 3. The first two episodes are an emotional roller coaster for Dicte and for we viewers as well.

Some characters will go and some others will be introduced. That said, the format of the show remains the same. Five stories or crimes presented in two parts. A lt of location shooting and some very strong performances.

Watch for two new characters – Nina Storm is John Wagner’s ex-wife. She will return to Aarhus, and without giving much away – she brings a lot of baggage with her. Actress Stine Stengade has the role. While you might not like the character, Stengade gives us a strong performance.

Another new character is Tonni. I can’t tell you where he fits in as that would create a spoiler. I will say, that if you are familiar with the three seasons of the Danish political series Borgen, you will recognize him. Soren Malling who played Torben Friis in Borgen has the role.

There will some stressful times for both Rosa and Dicte’s friend Anne. Torsten will be looking to buy  a home out of the city, in a commune. Dicte herself will find much to stress about.

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Fauda

Fauda is the Arabic word for chaos. Available for streaming into your home via Netflix over the last few weeks is this strong and dark Israeli TV series about an undercover unit of Israeli counter-terrorists who live and work in Ramallah, the Palestinian Administrative capital, located in the West Bank. There are 12 episodes and each runs about 32 to 35 minutes.

To be honest, though I had heard the name of the city Ramallah before, I would be hard-pressed, if asked, to pin point the place on a map. For that matter, I wasn’t really sure where the West Bank was either.

Well, Ramallah is just about 10 kilometers north from Jerusalem. There are Palestinians who live in Ramallah who work in Jerusalem, and probably a smaller number who make the opposite commute into Ramallah. So there are lots of checkpoints for those entering or leaving Jerusalem where the Israeli military carefully check credentials, often conducting pat downs or strip searches.

Which obviously contributes to an overriding sense of tension and stress.

The series, as the image at the top of the post states, is about a man hunt conducted by this specific Israel undercover group. Doron Kavillio is the agent who had retired to a life of running a family wine business. As played by series creator Lior Raz, Doron is tough as nails, and is both uncompromising and determined.

He thought he had killed the Palestinian Hamas terrorist Abu Ahmad years ago. There had even been a funeral.

This Abu Ahmad had both not only survived, but had gone so far underground that even his own wife and children did not know he was alive. So Doron is asked to return to service.

The series opens inside of a Palestinian mosque. Some men are praying, and are interrupted by some men asking for help.

These are actually the Israelis and they are there to abduct their target, a man they believe will help them by providing some intel about the whereabouts of Abu Ahmad aka The Panther.

Gabi, aka Captain Ayub - the Israeli negotiator

Gabi, aka Captain Ayub – the Israeli negotiator

The Israelis get some intel they need by offering the abducted a kidney transplant for his daughter in an Israeli hospital; a level of care not possible under the Palestinian Authority.

fauda-netflix

Armed with the intel, that the Panther will attend his brother’s wedding, the Israelis plan to infiltrate the wedding by posing as the caterers to gain access.

From there, the series simply takes off. There are plenty of pulse-pounding action sequences, and even when there is a lower level of activity, the stress and tension are still high. And that’s why I have called this a strong and dark series.

To survive, the Israelis must lie, or kill. The Palestinians are humanized to high degree. Obviously they are more than just the Hamas terrorists, and the series goes to great lengths to avoid boxing the Palestinians into a corner where you must feel that they deserve only your hate.

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No Second Chance aka Une Chance de Trop

How about a six-part TV series that has a kidnapping, multiple murders, secret service agents, plenty of twists and turns, great action sequences, and some terrific dramatic scenes. Adapted from the Harlan Coben novel, French TV has made the book No Second Chance into a rather well done series. They re-titled it to Une Chance de Trop for the French Market. And the best news is that you can see it on your Netflix Streaming service right now.

The star is Alexandra Lamy who plays Dr. Alice Lambert. For the record, she has 48 acting credits, but unless you live in France, she’s likely to be new to you. Also for the record, she was formerly married to French actor Jean Dujardin who is most famous for his role in The Artist – a film that walked off with an armful of Oscars including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director. But I digress.

Here’s the lead into the film. We begin at a birthday party for a baby less than a year old. This is Tara, Dr. Alice’s daughter. All seems idyllic. But then…..days later….

Alice, the doctor, is shot in the back in her home, her husband is murdered and her infant daughter kidnapped. Faced with inept police, who at times suspect her, she begins her own hunt for her baby and the culprits.

That’s the thumbnail description of the film on IMDB. But that is the kind of sped up version. We actually see her get shot, but we don’t see by who.

We find her in the ICU of a Paris hospital. The police hover around her ready to pounce and ask some questions.

What can you tell us?

I was preparing a bottle for Tara, and now I wake up here. Where is my husband? Where is my baby?

We’ll get to that in a minute…do you remember anything else?

What day is it?

It is Sunday–

So this happened to me yesterday…?

No, it is 8 days later, you’ve been in a coma.

She’s been shot in the back, and the bullet passed through her chest. Her reality is simple – she’s lost her family, been shot, and she learns all this 8 days after it happened.

From there, as you can easily imagine, things barely progress at all when it comes to solving her case. Which probably means we need more characters. We’ll meet the sister of Dr. Alice. The girls used to be close, but now the younger sister has a serious drug addiction and has fallen in with the wrong crowd,

We’ll meet Alice’s in-laws, or said another way, her dead husband’s parents, the Delaunays. They are filthy rich and live in castle or chateau if you prefer. Their moral compass is a bit off.

Then there’s the cops. Hippolyte Giradot plays Detective Cyril Tessier. He’s kind of a pompous ass. His partner, who is way more effective than you might think is called Detective Florence Romano. She’s played by Charlotte Des George, and she’s rather pleasant to watch.

There’s the old boy friend who comes out of the shadows after 15 years. His name is Richard Millot and he’s played by French Actor Pascal Elbé.  He’s a part-time cop, a liar, and a thief. He will have you wondering if he’s the good guy who has ridden into town to save the good Doctor and help find the killer and the missing baby. Or if he’s something else.

Another guy we have to watch is Dr Alice’s neighbor and lawyer.  He’s called Louis Barthel (played by Lionel Abelanski). He;s a successful criminal defense lawyer, and the police detest him. We might call him the ‘good’ lawyer in this series, if for no other reason than to separate him from the ‘bad’ lawyer.

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Narcos: Season Two Arrives on Netflix

Netflix rolled out the second season of Narcos just last Friday, September 2nd. I took my time, meaning I stretched out the watching of the series over five days, concluding the 10th and final Episode by late afternoon on he 6th. I think the best way to get you interested is to show you the trailer right now.

If you had watched Season One of Narcos you know that the season ended with the drug-lord Pablo Escobar making a deal with the government of Colombia. He would construct a prison for them, paying for it himself, and he agreed to this self-styled version of being incarcerated. They called the place La Catedral.

Well it seemed that rather than being in jail, living under the commands of jailers, and doing what is called living-without, the reality was that this was nearly a four or five-star hotel.

Escobar lacked nothing either in foods, comforts, tv’s, or even communicating with the outside world which meant continuing to do business. Both the Colombian government and Escobar’s competitors began to question this incarceration. Despite checkpoints and blockades heading into this ‘prison’, Escobar’s truck deliveries managed to avoid the interdiction and so, the goods made their into the prison, and Escobar was able to ‘enjoy’ life there.

As Season 2 begins, the government planned a huge assault on the prison and it began well. But the slippery Escobar virtually walked out of the prison unscathed. In an encounter in the surrounding forest, Escobar virtually dared the squad leader to take action, otherwise he would continue on his way home.

Fearing repercussions later, the sea of soldiers, parted, and Escobar and his associates just walked on through.

And that was the just beginning of the second season of Narcos. If we can state that season one was the rise of Escobar, season two was certainly all about his fall. That’s not a spoiler as Escobar was an all too real drug lord and murderer. In fact, on his instructions, a shopping area in downtown Bogotá was car-bombed.

Planning the Bogota bombing

Planning the Bogotá bombing

This is in addition to out-and-out assassinations of cops, politicians, and rival cartels in the drug business.

So you knew there was going to be payback. With the Colombian government avid to get him to surrender, the DEA poking around and calling it ‘advising’, as well as the CIA doing what they could clandestinely. Escobar really didn’t have a chance.

His fate was all but sealed when one of the DEA agents assigned to capture him started to work covertly with the Cali Cartel via Judy Moncada (below).

The opposition cartel set up a death squad or hit team to systemically eliminate anyone who either worked for Escobar or helped his efforts. They were known as Los Pepes. If you described them as brutal you’d be describing them in a kindly way.

Their stock in trade was not just to take out Escobar’s associates and allies, but to make the killings as public as possible. Bodies were left in the most conspicuous of places all bearing signs that stated : This is what will happen to you if you help Pablo Escobar.

But the government had their own Death Squad too. This was called the Search Bloc. To get information on Escobar’s whereabouts they would put the squeeze on all of Escobar’s carefully planned network of scouts, spotters, and watchers. Their job was to radio ahead when the Search Bloc trucks and jeeps loaded with uniformed men with weapons would leave HQ.

Some of the watchers and radio men were really just teenagers and some even younger. Escobar had a reputation (when things were flush) of giving out money. All for the purpose of enhancing his reputation as a Robin Hood-esque kind of drug dealer.

But the Search Bloc was desperate to capture or kill Escobar, so they didn’t even think twice about executing the ones who wouldn’t talk.

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