Tuesday, June 30, 2015

[Review] Escobar: Paradise Lost

Depending on whom you ask, the infamous ruler & drug lord Pablo Escobar was either a ruthless criminal with the utmost power, or a larger than life Robin Hood figure. Benicio Del Toro takes on the role, and aside from his great performance, the overall product falls on the middling side.

It opens amidst Escobar's surrender to authorities, so basically during his last day as a free man.
He's in the process of setting up plans before he goes to prison, which involve putting all his accumulated wealth in the right places and giving kill orders--one of the people he gives an order to is Nick (Josh Hutcherson, most people will probably know him from The Hunger Games), who is also Escobar's niece Maria's (Claudia Traisac) boyfriend. Then, we're hit with an abrupt '3 years earlier' flashback, profiling the events that lead up to that point.

The time bounce muddles the cohesion of an already slightly unfocused story. It's a disjointed mix--part romance between Nick and Maria, part slice of life film for Escobar, which also means part gangster drama. The perspectives seem to switch. You'd think the POV would rest with Escobar, but it's all with Nick. The main problem isn't necessarily that the film flashes back in the first place--it's more-so that the events just aren't overly engaging. For a large amount of the duration, it's Nick being scared to meet the Uncle Pablo, while Maria tries to convince him that Pablo is not a bad guy. "Everything I do, I do out of love for my family," Escobar says. But this isn't really going to sway us his way or give us a new outlook on him. Fortunately, things do gradually pick up as we approach the back half of the film and it enters serviceable crime thriller mode.

Aside from its narrative falters, the film is very well-shot and solidly directed. The powerful, operatic string-driven score adds to the grandiose drama. Del Toro's fully dedicated performance is the most impressive aspect. He plays the part with immense skill and it never gets cartoony or caricature impression driven. It's subtle and nuanced, but a cold-blooded murderer boils just beneath the surface. Del Toro essentially disappears into the role. But unfortunately, he's criminally underused.


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