Film Review: Sins Of My Father

Sins of My Father: Film Poster

Sins of My Father: Film Poster

Late one night while battling a fit of insomnia, I watched the documentary Sins Of My Father (also known as Pecados de mi Padre), a film about Sebastian Marroquin, the son of notorious drug kingpin Pablo Escobar.

Directed by Nick Entel and completed in 2009, Sins Of My Father, won several awards at film festivals around the world.  I remember reading about it but did not have the opportunity to see it until now.  Sins Of My Father focuses on the life of Pablo Escobar and the effects of his lifestyle and choices on his family after his death, and in particular his son Sebastian Marroquin.

Narrated by Marroquin, the film shows him meeting with the director several times over several years.  Marroquin, born Juan Carlos Escobar, has been living in exile with his family in Argentina for decades since his father was killed in 1993 and the family was forced to flee from Colombia.  For their own safety, the Escobar family has lived away from Colombia never returning for fear of retribution.  Marroquin himself felt forced to take on another name since his father's death.

Sins Of My Father provides a glimpse into the life of Pablo Escobar and his family that only a person as close to Escobar could possibly know.  Using rare film footage and photographs from the Escobar estate, viewers discover the true Escobar, the criminal mastermind, the politician, the family man, and the philanthropist who gave to some of Colombia's poorest communities and local Catholic churches.

The film begins with a short history of Escobar's early life and then quickly details his reign as a leader in the Medellin Cartel.  Film footage of his old estate in Colombia, Hacienda Napoles (or Naples Estate), where Escobar lived on hundreds of acres of land in a palatial home filled with luxuries that included fine art from the world's renowned artists and land that was home to exotic wild animals such as jungle cats and elephants and rare birds.  The footage which came from a Latin American show about luxurious homes and estates (think Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous).

Over the years I have heard many mention the name of Pablo Escobar, from hip hop to the urban documentaries about Cocaine Cowboys and anyone else who was big in the 1980s-1990s drug game, but his story was completely unknown to me. His estate was so massive and he had accumulated a tremendous amount of wealth and power during his reign.  He did not come into power or stay in power with ease, however, as his Medellin cartel battled the Cali cartel for years in a prolonged drug war.

Sins Of My Father goes into great depth about how Escobar accumulated his wealth and power, exploring his business acumen and his quest for power and acceptance into high society.  Escobar wanted to become a powerful politician and eventually had a short career in politics.  But his quest for power did not stop there.  Escobar was known to bribe law enforcement and government officials, offering them "money or death"  or "plata or plomo."  As a result hundreds of officials were killed on Escobar's orders by his team of hitmen, including Luis Carlos Galan, a presidential candidate in Colombia and Rodrigo Lara Bonilla, a Minister of Justice.

Pablo Escobar amassed such wealth and power that he was named as a billionaire in Forbes magazine in the late 1980s and was also able to hold off extradition to the United States at the same time.  Escobar demanded that the Colombian constitution be changed to prevent any extradition of Colombian criminals and the national constitution was changed to reflect that.  Escobar then turned himself in to serve time at a palatial prison in Colombian---one he paid to have built not far from his estate---and then began to serve a shortened sentence there.  Eventually, his reign would come to an end and the Cali cartel would play a part in his descent from power and ultimately his death.

In Sins Of My Father, Marroquin seems to want to clear the name of the Escobar family,  to assure the world that he has no interest in being a part of the drug business like his father and to apologize for the murders that Escobar ordered.   Marroquin makes it clear the fear and torment his family has suffered all of these years after having to flee their home in Colombia and the fear of retribution they have carried.

Marroquin talks about times that he was threatened by Colombian drug lords who worried that he would try to take his father's place and threaten their place in the food chain.  He also talks about a time when the family was being extorted by an accountant in Argentina who had discovered their true identity and the way law enforcement treated the family after they sought help.  In short, the family was arrested and accused of drug trafficking until proven innocent.

By filming the documentary, Marroquin was able to return to his native country for short stretches to relive his past and the road his family took to escape Colombia after Escobar's death.  It also allowed him the opportunity to reach out to the sons of Galan and Bonilla, whose fathers were killed on direct order from Escobar.  Marroquin's argument is simple: despite the money and power that Pablo Escobar gained, his family lost it all and has suffered for Escobar's sins even years after his death.

Upon meeting the Galans and Bonillas face-to-face (on separate occasions), sons of both men embrace Marroquin and offer understanding and forgiveness.  It is a tremendous moment of healing.

What struck me most about this film was Marroquin's story at the end of the film.  Marroquin talks about a time when they were living underground and hiding from the police.  They were surrounded in a rural place with very little food and living in poor conditions with very little heat.  He said that they were burning bundles of cash in a stove to keep warm and they had little more than a cup of rice to eat.  It was then, Marroquin says, that he realized that all the money that his father made was worthless but it could not give them what they needed most at that moment, which was food and warm shelter.

A poignant lesson for anyone, I think.  One that most urban documentaries and many gangster hip hop songs seem to miss.



Sins Of My Father

Running Time: 1 Hour, 34 Minutes

Director: Nicolas Entel

Writers: Nicolas Entel, Pablo Farina