Escobar: Paradise Lost
There is a wonderful painting by Fernando Botero, showing the death of the druglord Pablo Escobar. In the painting Escobar sways above the rooftops like a supernatural being. Though he is earthy and formidable, he seems over-inflated and superciliously puffed up like a hot air balloon, full of ego and hyperbole. The gangster is swept up in a tango of bullets, one part elegance and one part violence. The portrait shows the desire of this man to become the lord of power while pining for a folk hero's status.
The film "Escobar: Paradise Lost" aims for this mythic, larger than life feeling but only partially succeeds.
Most of the story concerns a happy go lucky young Canadian, Nick (Josh Hutcherson) who falls in love with the vivacious Maria, Escobar's niece (Claudia Traisac) in a kind of Romeo & Juliet twist. While Hutcherson does quite well, he is a bit too blandly positive to be believable. Sure he is smitten by the intoxicating Maria: an infectious smile on legs, but he doesn't seem to sense the danger of Escobar until several months later.
This feels a bit far fetched.
The couple does have a winning chemistry. The amorous ambition of Nick twinned with the giddy delight of Maria, who has the charisma of a role by Natalie Wood vividly shows through.
This relationship is the highlight of the film.
The delight of our young lovers turns to darkness when Nick meets the imposing and granite faced Escobar (Benicio del Toro) He marches about and glares with scary eyes, even when he plays in the pool with his kids and it doesn't take long for the Big Chief to size up this Romeo, verde behind the ears.
There is one key scene where Escobar attempts to warm up to Nick by talking to him about love and the poetry in a song, but invariably del Toro gives his character one note: a menacing gloom. Periodically Escobar wears a bearded disguise and often it is in these moments when he feels the most plastic and grotesque, though this can also be thought of as an effect of the surreal.
Midway, the narrative goes formula as it strays away from its romantic tension and becomes more about Nick evading the Wrath of Escobar which hangs over everything in an all too solid emphasis, in its delineation of Bad Hombres.
Some well executed tension is to be found in a scene between Nick and a teenager (Micke Moreno) hired as a middleman with explosives.
The film is at its best in showing Nick caught in an incomprehensible culture of blood and bullets, racing for the girl he loves. But this plot line is dropped to follow him in peril.
Escobar feels too heavy, a black curled villain in india ink, underscored with exclamation points. Escobar the man doesn't give much to Nick other than MIGHT.
At the film's end, Escobar verbally insults a priest and del Toro's savage delivery, tells us more about this character in two minutes than in the entire film.
Escobar was most likely a person of menace and charisma as the work by Botero suggests. In "Escobar: Paradise Lost" however, we only get this man's weight and none of his wiles.
Write Ian at ianfree1@yahoo. Com