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