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Review: Loving Pablo (TIFF)

Loving Pablo (TIFF)
09.21.2017
5 10

PLOT: The true story of Pablo Escobar’s (Javier Bardem) love affair with TV host Virginia Vallejo (Penelope Cruz), which happened in the midst of his brutal rise to power.

REVIEW: I can only imagine that playing Pablo Escobar must have been a long-time dream of Javier Bardem’s. I’m sure being attached to “Killing Pablo”, the long-gestating adaptation of Mark Boal’s book that, among others, was once to be helmed by Joe Carnahan, only to see it collapse, must have worn on him. How else to explain LOVING PABLO, which comes along at least two years too late, covering the exact same ground as Netflix’s “Narcos.”

While that show, with its Spanish dialogue and documentary-esque directing, feels authentic (not to mention an electric performance by star Wagner Moura), LOVING PABLO, despite being independently financed, has the ring of Hollywood artificiality. Oddly shot in English (despite minor characters still speaking Spanish) on a grand scale, this is a slick take on Escobar’s world, but not a definitive one. Heck, it’s not even better than Benicio Del Toro’s ESCOBAR: PARADISE LOST, which offered a far more compelling look at the man.

Bardem’s version is more of a grotesque joke. Sporting a paunch and a hideous perm, he wanders around chewing scenery (no opportunity to show a flabby Escobar undressed is passed up), but makes the man who’s arguably the most powerful (and murderous) drug baron of all time into something of a joke. The movie is being sold is one that’s told through the eyes of Penelope Cruz’s Vallejo, but outside the first act, which shows her seduction into the world, she becomes a minor character. Rather, the focus is on Escobar’s career, again – something we’ve already seen done really well.

Oddly, the one thing that most people weren’t crazy about on “Narcos”, which were all the scenes cutting back to the DEA, are done here too, with Peter Sarsgaard as the agent hoping to turn Vallejo. It’s too thinly written a part for him to really do much with. In fact, the only moment LOVING PABLO really comes to life, and merits the casting of Bardem and Cruz, is when he gives her a handgun as a gift, and unsparingly describes what his enemies would do to her if they ever got the chance. It’s his one opportunity to be chilling, and it’s the only time you get why yet another Escobar movie has been made.

To give credit where it’s due, writer-director Fernando León de Aranoa has made a handsome looking film, with top-notch production values. A freeway plane landing in Miami is well-staged, as is Escobar’s last stand, while the score by Federico Jusid is very serviceable. Still, this is one too many Escobar epics and one that needed a unique take to stand-out from the pack. Had it come along before “Narcos”, it might have been received differently, but at the moment, it’s unnecessary.

Source: JoBlo.com

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