You don’t have to know a thing about soccer, or even care much for it, to enjoy Diego Maradona, Asif Kapadia’s documentary about the legendary Argentina player.
Constructed from over 500 hours of archival footage, and bolstered by audio interviews with Maradona, Diego is an exciting look at how one player can elevate and transform the game while simultaneously taking himself down the typical path of destruction.
Yes, the fall of Maradona is the movie’s weakest part. Not because Kapadia doesn’t present it compellingly — he does — but because Maradona’s excessive drug use, philandering, and deception are commonplace. And as a soccer player, Maradona was anything but common. He was transcendent.
Using grainy video footage — itself a thing of beauty — Kapadia constructs Maradona’s matches in images the way Ernest Hemingway recounted bullfighting with words. Rarely does Kapadia rely on high-angle shots to present the pitch and players in relation to each other. His interest is Maradona, and Kapadia finds the camera closest to him: often tracking him from the sidelines with Maradona obscured by other players. But then, he breaks free, bursting through the group, his long, curly mane holding desperately to his scalp as Maradona barrels down the pitch toward the keeper.
One such shot — easily the movie’s signature moment — arrives during the 1986 World Cup quarterfinals. Maradona, decked in Argentina’s blue jersey, trucks his way from one side of the field to the other, splitting defenders left and right, seemingly running through and around every single defender on England’s team. Announcer Victor Hugo Morales builds into a fever pitch of screams and adulations, and Maradona scores the game-winning goal.
To watch an accomplished perform is one of life’s greatest pleasures. But to bear witness to genius in action is to feel the tingle of the divine.
Directed by Asif Kapadia
Produced by James Gay-Rees, Paul Martin
Starring: Diego Armando Maradona, Claudia Villafañe, Diego Maradona Jr., Corrado Ferlaino, Maria Rosa Maradona, Cristiana Sinagra
HBO Sports, Not Rated, Running time 130 minutes, Released October 1, 2019