Review: Escobar: Paradise Lost (TIFF 2014)

Escobar: Paradise Lost (TIFF 2014)
7 10

PLOT: Nick (Josh Hutcherson) is a Canadian tourist travelling through Columbia. He meets and falls in love with a young woman (Claudia Traisac) who just happens to be the niece of cocaine-kingpin Pablo Escobar (Benicio Del Toro). Escobar quickly warms to the young man, bringing him into his inner-circle, but once Escobar's empire starts to crumble, Nick finds himself in the cross-hairs of the increasingly paranoid drug lord.

REVIEW: I've been waiting for someone to make a Pablo Escobar biopic for years. Ever since reading “Killing Pablo” the story has felt like a crime epic just waiting to happen. As such, it's a bit of a drag that the Escobar film we're finally getting features the kingpin in a supporting part, with the lead being Hutcherson's young tourist, an affable young man who finds himself in way over his head.

While a great Escobar biopic has yet to be made, ESCOBAR: PARADISE LOST is a lot better than you'd think, with director Andrea di Stefano delivering a slick, compact action thriller, with a standout performance by the ideally cast Del Toro. No stranger the the crime genre, Del Toro turns in an admirably controlled performance as the complicated kingpin. Physically, he looks a lot like the man, and Del Toro is so charismatic at first that you almost understand how Hutcherson's Nick could get sucked into his world.

At his best, Del Toro's Escobar seems like a paternal guy who just happens to export huge amounts of cocaine (with his niece defending him by saying that the whole country's economy practically relies on the drug). He doesn't seem like a madman, but in the second half, Di Stefano pulls the curtain back in a big way, with graphic depictions of his atrocities making it clear that the man – while brilliant – was a monster through and through.

The big issue with the second half is that Del Toro is off-screen for huge chunks of time. Rather, the focus is squarely on Hutcherson, as he's hunted by Escobar's minions and corrupt cops as a way of tying up loose ends. For his part, Hutcherson is very good, delivering a solid, dialed-down performance free of any macho posturing (a temptation a lot of his fellow heartthrobs likely wouldn't be able to resist) with him convincing as a scared kid on the run.

Having been picked up by Radius-TWC, ESCOBAR should be going into release relatively soon, and it feels like a slick commercial thriller that should find an audience. It plays especially well in theaters, with gorgeous Panama-locations doing a good job filling in for Columbia. The budget seems to have been relatively healthy, and the action-packed finale keeps you on the edge, even if you can't help but wish this had been a straight-up Escobar biopic. Perhaps it's best not to focus on what the film isn't, but rather what it is, which is a perfectly serviceable thriller. It's well-worth checking out, although I hope this isn't the last Escobar movie, or even the last one to star Del Toro.

Extra Tidbit: ESCOBAR is now playing in select theaters and on VOD in Canada and the US.
Source: JoBlo.com



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