Rene Higuita Netflix documentary poster

If Higuita: The Way of the Scorpion were a docuseries instead of a documentary film, you could understand the decision-making process better. Throughout several episodes, you can learn more about the subject before revealing the more fascinating aspects.

But this Netflix 140-minute doc on Colombian goalkeeper René Higuita waits until the final third of the film before it strikes. That’s unfortunate because director Luis Ara wastes an opportunity to hook in the casual viewer on a fascinating life. Perhaps he was focused on downplaying the incident. However, there’s no doubt that the most riveting part of the Higuita story involves a kidnapping, drug cartels, and Pablo Escobar.

Just based on that information, it should have been riveting.

For those familiar with the flamboyant footballer nicknamed El Loco, maybe Higuita: The Way of the Scorpion will be just fine—a solid refresher on a colorful life. But for some, this documentary makes some references to the kidnapping early but doesn’t give it enough context. Instead, we’re left to wonder when/if they are going to return to that and explain what it has to do with Higuita. The waiting makes for a frustrating viewing experience.

Higuita’s journey from humble beginnings to stardom is a familiar tale. What makes his story different is that in a sport where goal scorers like Pele, Lionel Messi, and Cristiano Ronaldo are most celebrated, Higuita gained fame as a goalie. He played the position with such flair and excellence that his style captivated the football community. Higuita is best known for his ‘scorpion kick.’ Most people saw it for the first time in 1995 during a friendly game between England and Colombia at Wembley. It’s one of the most memorable saves in soccer history.

Higuita’s soccer exploits were impressive enough. However, what he’s most infamous for internationally—and what the documentary should have focused more on— is his role in a kidnapping plot involving rival drug cartels. You could have made the entire film about that, and it would have been compelling.

On the surface, it seems like a noble gesture. Higuita helped secure the release of an abducted young girl. But there was a lot more to this story. Columbia’s favorite son was arrested in June 1993, accused of illegally arranging for and profiting from the release of an 11-year-old. Higuita was never tried and eventually released, but his seven-month imprisonment caused him to miss time playing for the Colombian national team, including a qualifying match for the 1994 FIFA World Cup between Argentina. Colombia won 5-0 in Buenos Aires.

Higuita maintains that Columbia authorities never asked him about the kidnapping but focused their questions on his association with Escobar as well as the drug kingpin’s whereabouts. Some of this is addressed in ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary The Two Escobars. This part of the Netflix doc is absorbing, but you also wished that it pushed for more details. In various interviews, he has acknowledged that he was friends with Escobar but doesn’t reveal much more. 

Escobar died in a shootout in December 1993.

The roots of a great documentary were there. However, due to how the film is structured, Higuita: The Way of the Scorpion misses the goal. 

Higuita: The Way of the Scorpion is in Spanish with English subtitles. 

About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant.