Review: Escobar: Paradise Lost
What feigns as a history lesson is really a tragic romance intertwined with a political thriller in Escobar: Paradise Lost. A palatable and entertaining film by Andrea di Stefano, it’s the kind of fare that so surely seems to have been created with various ideas and input, with mixed results.
In telling of Pablo Escobar, di Stefano smartly looks to identify one point of view: that of the romantic outsider. And he is romantic in several senses. A Canadian twenty-something (Josh Hutcherson), seeking sun and surf, ventures to Columbia with his brother where he falls in love with a beautiful local. It turns out she is the niece of notorious, charismatic drug lord Pablo Escobar (Benicio Del Toro).
Soon Nick –err, Nico – bears witness to the wealth and power of Escobar, his immense generosity and his uncompromising force. Wonder turns to fear, as the world around Escobar starts to erode as outside forces threaten his empire and the tycoon faces prison.
Several things happen, for better and worse, with the decision by the Italian actor-turned-director at the helm to use Nick as our entrance. What’s unfortunate is that Del Toro’s turn as Escobar is so captivating, so frightening that there is a palpable loss when he isn’t on screen; he’s absent too much. That’s because this isn’t a biopic, this isn’t a political or historical tale; it’s a tragic romance based on a real larger-than-life figure.
However, this look at Escobar offers what turns out to essentially be a popcorn movie during its final third, as Nick arrives at a harsh reality and tries to escape a Columbia that is collapsing in on itself. Hutcherson doesn’t’ come close to being as compelling as Del Toro, but he doesn’t need to be. We follow his journey, to whatever degree we are invested, and watch as horrors unfold around him.
Escobar is a harsh film, but suggests more terror than actually shows it; that which happens specifically to Nick and that which he hears work well enough to startle the viewer.
Still, you can’t help but feel a little malaise during the stretch in a finale that feels closer to Hollywood than anywhere else in the world. The often haunting, ever-sweaty and tense film doesn’t fully unravel, but becomes a little too heavy-handed when a deft touch will do.