British director Asif Kapadia has scored a classic field goal thanks to a fine assist from editor Chris King, with Diego Maradona, the third part of his trilogy on child geniuses, following (Aryton) Senna in 2010 and Amy (Winehouse) in 2015.
The film opens with a car chase as Maradona's vehicle heads to the San Paolo Stadium in Naples, Italy, where the Argentine football legend is unveiled to the press and public as a Napoli player on July 5, 1984. At the press conference, one reporter asks Maradona if he knew that Italian football was funded by the Camorra, a crime syndicate. The club president slams the scribe and expels him, claiming that all is well in Italian football. But that was far from the truth, as the movie reveals later that Camorra boss Carmine Giuliano used Maradona's eventual fame at the club to promote his business and in exchange, presented the mercurial footballer with a gold Rolex watch each time he appeared for commercial engagement. Napoli were a low-lying team in the most competitive Serie A (Italian football league), so the crowd of 85,000 that came to welcome Maradona, saw him as a saviour. And he did save them, by delivering the title in 1986-87 and 1989-90. Unfortunately, what transpired off the field in between, caused irreparable damage to Maradona. The football star, in a voiceover, admits that he began taking drugs at a nightclub while playing for Barcelona (1982-84) and continued it at Napoli as "drugs were freely available there."
He also claims that he felt like a film star in the company of the powerful Camorra. Some never-before-seen footage shows Maradona in a car following don Giuliano on a bike as they head off to celebrate the Serie A title in a Naples street at midnight. The film then smoothly backtracks to the utter poverty that Maradona was born in on October 30, 1960, at Villa Fiorito slums, Buenos Aires, with no drinking water. At 15, Maradona, who played for FC Argentinas Juniors, began paying for his large family (he was born after four girls).
Some brilliant footage of Maradona's excellence in the Serie A then unfolds, bound to give even the most unlikely football fan goosebumps, as he slaloms his way past sturdy but punishing Italian defenders.
With success and fame came bad habits, and Maradona admits he was "no saint" and that "there were many gorgeous women" besides girlfriend Claudia Villafane. One such affair got a young Christina Sinagra, 21, pregnant and Maradona, says his personal trainer Fernando Signorini, headed into the 1986 Mexico World Cup a worried man as he knew of the pregnancy.
Another fine piece of footage shows Maradona telling his teammates moments before the final against Germany that "in two hours we will be world champions." His emotional phone call to mum Dona Tota after the final is sweet too. "I love you, mama," he says, to which she replies: "You've made me the happiest mother on Earth. Go rest, my son."
Naples was to be Maradona's undoing too as Argentina's World Cup 1990 semi-final win over Italy there, made him a villain. The film claims that a witch hunt thereafter saw the Italians tear into Maradona, who admits consuming cocaine every Sunday night after a match and right through to Wednesday before cleansing his body for the following Sunday's game. He is banned and leaves Naples in 1991.
The film ignores Maradona's 1994 World Cup comeback and straightaway jumps to 2004 where an obese Maradona is at the peak of his drug problem.
The closing scenes are moving though — an overweight Maradona struggling to score a goal at a casual game with friends and a young Maradona then incredibly bouncing the ball off his left heel over a dozen times, proving that the curtains were prematurely drawn on a career that was both tremendous and terrible.