Aside from a memorable opening sequence that confirms beyond any doubt that this is a documentary from Asif Kapadia (Senna, Amy) – and that Kapadia is very good at his job – Maradona is somewhat lacklustre for long stretches of its excessive runtime, which stretches to some 130 minutes. For those unaccustomed to the madness and magic of its subject, who is broadly considered one of the greatest footballers in modern history, there are doubtless some interesting and provocative tales. But anyone with even a second tier education in the sport will find little in this film that they aren’t already aware of.
Unfortunately for Kapadia, this isn’t the first time. Amy, which won an Oscar, was similarly cursory for those who know the similarly tragic story of the once-in-a-generation vocalist. Vaguely interested readers of the tabloid press during the years of her downfall will be fully aware of almost all it covers. Though his films have been valued as authoritative collections of what we already know – and of Senna especially this may be true – Kapadia misses a trick by failing to develop his personal analyses beyond the headlines. In a year of uncharacteristically tough competition among documentaries to win audience favour – Minding the Gap, Apollo 11, Scorsese’s Netflix film on Dylan and Ron Howard’s Pavarotti being just a small handful – Maradona may well be drowned out.
Admittedly, that isn’t primarily the fault of the filmmaker. What is Kapadia’s own pitfall, however, is his willingness to accept a half-baked ‘celebrity versus personality’ narrative that we’ve seen all too many times before, and which we’re ready to move on from. The concept of ‘Diego versus Maradona’ is one the film returns to many a time, but not one that seems to hold much ground in the life of his subject beyond how he has been understood.
The focus of the film, moreover, on what we don’t know rather than what we do is a risk that doesn’t quite pay off. Spending only a few minutes on the iconic (or infamous) Hand of God may seem like economic storytelling, but has the unintended consequence of minimising a central tale in Maradona’s life and career. To tell the story of Luis Suarez with only a brief mention of his, well, appetite would be similarly inadequate.
Of course, most of the documentary is effective enough. New first-hand interviews with many of those involved and an interesting exploration of Maradona’s near-accidental ties to the Neapolitan mafia give Maradona the sort of grounding in originality we have come to expect from the abundance of top-tier documentaries we can find today. But an indecision between leaning on scarcely explored, enlightening narratives and Maradona’s greatest hits, so to speak, render Kapadia’s take a merely competent one, and all too forgettable.