Escobar: Paradise Lost (2015)

10 Oct


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

I guess I should start this review by saying that the title, “Escobar: Paradise Lost,” makes it seem like Pablo Escobar is the central focus of the film. That is not the case. Like “The Last Kind of Scotland,” “Me and Orson Welles,” and “My Week With Marilyn,” “Escobar: Paradise Lost” is less about the historical figure and more about how a young person sees him or her during a life-changing experience. I think “Me and Escobar” or “Escobar and Me” or even “The Escobar Supremacy Ruined My Life” would’ve been better (just kidding).

Because the performance by Benicio Del Toro as Escobar is so brilliant, people have complained that this film fell back on its potential by having its main character be a less-than-interesting young man trapped in Escobar’s world. But for what it is, I think “Escobar: Paradise Lost” is still a riveting drama with a lead that is unfairly evaluated. At its core is the story of a young man who realizes too late what he’s gotten himself into, leading to confusion and betrayal. This story’s been done before, but if done right, it can still work effectively, which I believe is the case here.

Josh Hutcherson stars as Nick Brady, a young Canadian surfer who lives in a surf shack on a beach with his brother (Brady Corbet) and his family. When Nick meets and becomes involved with a young beauty named Maria (Claudia Traisac), she invites him to meet her family, including her uncle, Pablo Escobar. Nick is naïve enough to believe that Escobar’s cocaine trade is for medicinal purposes and he’s only exporting “the national product,” so he falls in with the family. But as time goes by, little does he know that Escobar has been gradually luring him into his circle of influence, and by the time he understands the danger he’s in and is about to leave town with Maria, he’s called in to hide the “goods” to a secret location, where he must shoot and kill a local who will take him there.

This leads to a very well-done, extended, suspenseful sequence after which Nick meets the guide he is supposed to kill…and it’s a kid. The tension mounts over a long period of time, as horrified Nick is nervously trying to think of what to do. The back half of the film is the most powerful portion, with action, suspense, and even drama.

Benicio Del Toro is only on screen for I’d say about half of the film, but his presence dominates the entire film with a creepy blend of allure and malice, as he orders death with straightforwardness while holding family and God close to heart. Del Toro plays a monster in human form.

Josh Hutcherson, one of my favorite young actors working today, is quite believable in a role that may not have been written well but is surpassed by his credibility. There’s a scene late in the film where he comes to a hasty decision in order to attempt to save someone, and he plays it very effectively. Because of his performance, I didn’t mind that this was our lead and Escobar was merely second-billing.

My only problems with the film involve the supporting cast. There aren’t many memorable characters in either Nick’s family or Escobar’s circle, and this can welcome criticism with an obvious comparison (“The Godfather”), but then again, this isn’t that film, though it would’ve been nice to meet someone else on the same level as Del Toro. As for the relationship involving Nick and Maria, it falters because Maria starts out interesting but then becomes less of a character as the film moves along.

And something else people complain about with this film is that it’s two movies at once—a true story of the notorious Colombian drug lord of the early 1990s and an action-thriller about an innocent trapped in a web of violence. I would agree with that, but I’m not going to judge too harshly on it, because the film begins with Escobar telling Nick what he needs him to do while hiding the drugs and then flashes back to Nick’s surfing days before he even met Maria. So it keeps the tension level up by telling us something important, showing how it came to this, and then catching back up to where it left off. So I didn’t mind.

Maybe a biopic starring Del Toro as Pablo Escobar would’ve been intriguing because Del Toro does such a good job in the role, but for what it is, I recommend “Escobar: Paradise Lost,” due to Del Toro’s powerful performance, Hutcherson’s charisma, and a skillfully crafted second half.

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