'Escobar: Paradise Lost'
The only reason that ‘Escobar: Paradise Lost’ was made and the only reason to ever consider watching it is the fact that someone had the ingenious idea of casting Benicio Del Toro as the notorious Colombian cocaine king Pablo Escobar. Del Toro is every bit as good as you’d hope in the title role. Unfortunately, that just makes it sting a little harder that such wonderful casting was wasted on such a dull movie that could easily be retitled ‘My Wacky Adventures with Uncie Pablo’.
Sadly, Del Toro isn’t the star of the movie he dominates. Nope, that job falls onto the shoulders of ‘Hunger Games’ professional worrywart Josh Hutcherson. He plays a naïve Canadian surfer dude named Nick who moved to Colombia to ride some gnarly waves and set up a surf shop, brah. Soon, Nick falls in love with a ravishing young Colombian lass played by Claudia Traisac. Everything seems oh so idyllic and peachy keen in their existence, until Nick is brought home to meet the family – and specifically to get vetted by her Uncle Pablo (Del Toro, as promised). The boy and Escobar form a pleasantly creepy relationship, with Escobar hoping to keep his business and family separated. Of course, Nick’s paranoia and ability to notice reality grow over the course of the film. Eventually, Escobar’s empire starts to crumble and Nick’s life is put at risk with chase scenes and guns and stuff.
The biggest and most insurmountable problem that actor-turned-debut-writer/director Andrea Di Stefano faces in ‘Escobar: Paradise Lost’ is his choice of protagonist. By choosing the lone Canadian on the drug lord’s radar, Di Stefano delivers the dullest Pablo Escobar movie possible.
There are ways in which the protagonist’s naivety could have been played for dark laughs (it happens exactly once, when his fiancée cheerfully announces that the family business is “cocaine” and no one reacts uneasily), or the character could have at least been drawn deeper into Escobar’s bloody inner circle. Sadly, Di Stefano opts to ignore these roads and, as his subtitle suggests, takes on a deathly serious tone that his content can’t back up. I suppose Hutcherson is fine in the fairly thankless role he’s been given, but the fact that the movie’s hero is so dull and his point of view is so limited becomes a deafening problem every time that Del Toro takes the screen.
There’s no doubt about it; Benicio Del Toro is fantastic as Escobar. The brilliant actor gives a flamboyant yet grounded performance as the larger-than-life figure. For the most part, he plays his evil behind a smile to keep up the front of a typical family man. But when the shit hits the fan and the movie barrels towards a finale, Del Toro ditches all pretenses and dives straight into the heart of darkness. The star is perfectly cast as Escobar and clearly had a blast embodying the iconic criminal.
What a shame then that his excellent work is wasted on a movie that slowly sprinkles him into a dull storyline with a useless protagonist. That approach might have worked in Di Stefano’s obvious model, ‘The Last King of Scotland‘, but here it’s just a waste of time that detracts from all the good stuff (namely, Benicio).
Sure, the finale features some tense moments and some well-crafted explosions of violence and increased screen time for the movie’s real star. Unfortunately, by that point it’s too little too late. The filmmakers have already blown their Pablo Escobar movie and there’s no getting it back no matter how hard Del Toro tries. The saddest part is that it’s unlikely that Del Toro will ever get to play Escobar again in a movie worthy of his efforts. This was our one shot at seeing a great Benicio Del Toro/Pablo Escobar movie, and sadly, that shot was blown.