The casting is perfect. Benicio Del Toro is a menacing figure. When he stares at you it’s as if he is looking through your soul searching for imperfections while freezing your tracks with his Medusa gaze. He commands attention and his deep, raspy voice framed within a 6’ 2” structure makes him an intimidating figure. Who better then to play Pablo Escobar, the notorious Columbian drug lord who built an empire worth $30 billion in the early 1990’s via cocaine trafficking? Escobar was a cut throat head of a smuggling ring that left hundreds of civilians (including government officials and police officers) dead in executions that furthered his trade. Escobar’s life and family are the center of attention in Andrea Di Stefano’s new film Escobar: Paradise Lost that had its World Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival this past week.
Paradise Lost doesn’t so much entail the drug smuggling and rise to power of Escobar as it does tell the story of a young Canadian surfer named Nick (Josh Hutchison of The Hunger Games) who becomes romantically involved with Escobar’s niece Maria (Claudia Traisac) only to realize that he has befriended the family of one of the most ruthless and frightening men of the late 20th Century.
It all starts innocent enough. Nick and his brother settle on a beach in Columbia where they look to spend their days in a tropical paradise. Nick then happens upon Maria while in town and is immediately smitten by the beauty and confidence of the young Columbian. Maria works for her uncle and although she is unaware of his ferocious murderous side, she is calmly at ease with telling Nick that her uncle made his fortune via cocaine. Her effortless and non-threatening openness about his profession seems to put Nick at ease and Nick is professional and courteous upon his first meeting with the infamous Uncle Escobar.
As time progresses, Escobar’s empire seems to be crumbling and Nick is entrapped to assist the cartel in an action to hide drugs and money ahead of Escobar’s surrendering to U.S. authorities. Nicks actions and his fight for understanding and ultimate survival during his attempts to fulfill Escobar’s instructions lead to the film’s high dramatic and climatic point.
Escobar: Paradise Lost is not a biopic. It is filled with fact and fiction plot points with the focus on telling a story with a historical figure as a backdrop. Unfortunately, the story is not strong enough or compelling enough to worthy the blurred historical lines.
Escobar was the Scarface of his era. In 1991, Columbia became the murder capital of the world with upwards of 27,000 homicides. Most were attributed to the Escobar and his relentless attack on anyone who stood in the way of his expanding empire. 600 police officers alone were killed during the height of Escobar’s power.
But Escobar: Paradise Lost doesn’t dive into these grizzly and ultimately page turning events. Instead, it focuses on the love story between the two less interesting people who happen to intertwine with Escobar’s family life.
Del Toro commands the screen with his presence. When he sits with Nick in a room and writes something on this hand when Nick innocently tells the story of a problem his group has had with some local thugs, you know that the troublemakers will face a bloody retribution. Its moments like these that make us wish that Escobar: Paradise Lost was solely about Escobar.
Hutchison does a bang up job in his first adult acting role. Zathura and The Hunger Games hardly gave the thespian an opportunity to rise above the green screens that surround him, but he proves here that he is worthy of the “Actor to Watch” designation bestowed upon him by many media outlets just a few years ago.
We were ultimately disappointed with the end result of Escobar: Paradise Lost. More specifically, we found Del Toro to be wasted in a role that he was (dare we suggest) born to play. That doesn’t make Escobar: Paradise Lost a bad film, but it doesn’t make it the film it could have been either.
Escobar: Paradise Lost will be released in the United States November 26th
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