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Here’s a documentary that shines a light on squalid corner of British post-imperial legacy: the batches of mercenaries – largely former military personnel – who roamed the world’s trouble spots in the 70s and 80s, killing for hire in numerous civil conflicts in Africa and Latin America. (As this film suggests, these ex-SAS types weren’t politically neutral: they were actively keen on killing communists in places like Angola and Rhodesia.)
The film focuses on an escapade that is – ethically speaking – a little less murky than cold war Africa: a plot to assassinate the super-powerful Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar in the late 1980s. However, since it was organised at the behest of another super-powerful Colombian drug lord, any claims to the moral high ground are not really supportable.
The principal interviewees here are Peter McAleese, a former paratrooper who grew up in Glasgow and was responsible for the military activities of the assassination squad, and the somewhat more dapper David Tomkins, the man who organised the contracts and who by his own account moved enormous amounts of arms into conflict zones.
McAleese and Tomkins relate the story of their mission efficiently enough. We know it is doomed to fail, as history tells us Escobar was shot dead a few years later, in 1993, by a Colombian police unit. Presumably to crank up the narrative tension, director David Whitney adds a series of reconstruction-flashback scenes of McAleese, alone and injured in the Colombian rainforest. With little signposting, they slow down the film’s momentum, even if we eventually learn where they fit in in the bigger scheme of things. It all seems rather affable until a shipment of weapons turns up: the gun lust on show underscores the abhorrent nature of the enterprise.
Rather like a veteran ex-football hooligan, McAleese is heroically frank about his propensity for violence as he fills in his backstory, offering up as evidence his rough Glaswegian upbringing next door to Barlinnie prison (he points out the cell window from which his hardman father would signal when he was doing time). On some level, McAleese’s scorn for his former self is a reasonably creditable attempt to confront the consequences of the destruction he has caused, even if there is an evasiveness about the way he focuses on failings in his personal life rather than his victims, in Africa or elsewhere. At 79, he’s still a scary individual.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Killing Escobar review – the hard men behind plot to kill drug lord | Film