Es­co­bar: Par­adise Lost

Es­co­bar: Par­adise Lost, thriller, rated R, in English and Span­ish with sub­ti­tles, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, 2.5 chiles

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO -

What, we won­der when we first meet Nick, is a nice boy like you do­ing in a place like this?

That place is in the clutches of the no­to­ri­ous Colom­bian drug lord Pablo Es­co­bar (Beni­cio Del Toro), who loves the young gringo “Nico” like a son and en­trusts him with the stash­ing away of a huge cache of trea­sure, with in­struc­tions to ex­e­cute his na­tive guide when the job is done. Es­co­bar is head­ing off to prison in the morn­ing, and he doesn’t want more peo­ple than nec­es­sary know­ing where the money is hid­den.

Where to start? In flash­back, or “a few years ear­lier,” ac­cord­ing to the ti­tle card that takes us back to the ar­rival of fresh-faced Cana­dian Nick (Josh Hutch­er­son, The Hunger Games) and his brother Dy­lan (Brady Cor­bet) in Colom­bia, where they plan to start a surf­ing school on an idyl­lic stretch of beach.

Par­adise is nearly lost when some lo­cal thugs show up and claim that the beach is theirs. “Don’t worry, they’ll for­get about us,” Nick re­as­sures Dy­lan in what has to be one of the most stun­ningly naïve lines ever spo­ken on­screen; and sure enough, they don’t. But as luck would have it, Nick meets the beau­ti­ful young Maria (Claudia Traisac), and they promptly fall in love. She comes with the bonus of be­ing the fa­vorite niece of Es­co­bar, and when Un­cle Pablo learns of Nick’s prob­lem, the trou­ble and the thugs dis­ap­pear.

But, as we have seen, in­ti­macy with Es­co­bar comes with a price. As played by Del Toro, he’s a ge­nial God­fa­ther of a fig­ure, larger than life but on close terms with death as well. He is not a man who is com­fort­able with loose ends. Del Toro’s Es­co­bar is an in­fin­itely more in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ter than Hutch­er­son’s Nick, who has only a cou­ple of ex­pres­sions, one love-struck and the other wor­ried. But in the hands of de­but wri­ter­di­rec­tor An­drea Di Ste­fano (a vet­eran Ital­ian ac­tor seen in Eat Pray Love, Nick takes cen­ter stage (you can al­most see the stu­dio memo: “Play up the young An­glo hunk”) and Es­co­bar, whose brood­ing face dom­i­nates the movie’s poster, is rel­e­gated to a sup­port­ing role.

Nick and Maria fall so fast and so swoon­ingly that the time frame is hard to jus­tify — how can they still be hang­ing around court­ing a few years later? Maria knows that Un­cle Pablo is in the co­caine busi­ness (“Ex­port­ing Colom­bia’s na­tional prod­uct,” she ex­plains), but ev­i­dence of his patho­log­i­cal vil­lainy mounts quickly, and a few years seems a long time to wait for the young lovers to start pack­ing.

As an ac­tion-ad­ven­ture thriller, the movie spins an en­ter­tain­ing story, and Del Toro looms larger over it than his screen time would seem to al­low. But, like Es­co­bar and his pop­ulist po­lit­i­cal ca­reer, it squan­ders a promis­ing op­por­tu­nity with too many bad choices. — Jonathan Richards

Don’t shoot :B eni­cio De lT oro

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