Escobar: Paradise Lost
Starring Josh Hutcherson, Benicio del Toro, Brady Corbet, Claudia Traisac,
Is a film more or less powerful because it’s true or not? I was emotionally unprepared for the impact of “Escobar: Paradise Lost” which isn’t as much a film about Pablo Escobar, as it is a film about the effect he had on those around him. It’s a gripping story that manages to create characters we care about and fear, thanks to some career highlight performances from both Hutcherson (Hunger Games) and Oscar winner Del Toro (21 Grams). I can’t find any evidence to prove Josh Hutcherson’s Canadian surfer character Nick Brady ever existed or that he fell in love with Escobar’s niece Maria. Maybe they are simply composite characters invented by the screenwriter, however they are still effective creations for Italian writer/director Andrea di Stefano’s thriller.
Dylan (Corbet) and his younger brother Nick (Hutcherson) came to the surfside town of Turbo to live a quiet and peaceful life. Small business, surf lessons, sleeping in hammocks; it was enough until Nick met Maria (Traisac). “You come here and think you have found paradise,” she scolds, thinking he is just another “Gringo”. Nick doesn’t know much about Pablo Escobar (Del Toro) as the leaders rise to power in 1991 was nearing its peak. Maria is his niece, and in a blink of an eye, Nick is shaking hands with the most powerful man in Colombia and taking a job at his multimillion dollar hacienda. Maria openly admits her uncle makes his money in cocaine, but seems to excuse the crimes since he gives money back to the poor citizens.
It’s a haunting cinematic experience contrasting a loving culture and breathtaking coastline with the most horrifying violence and shameful betrayal that crippled a country.
Historical figures through the eyes on the everyman isn’t a new concept, nor is Del Toro playing a monstrous drug dealer or even a South American radical. What I found so compelling here was Hutcherson, the usually meek and unsexy “other dude” portraying something we haven’t seen before.
The title might be “Escobar” but this is a dramatic story built around this fictional character and how he literally lost paradise. The film opens with present day 1991, it builds up to a suspenseful moment, introducing the characters only to shift back two years and show how we got to that point. Typically I despise this technique in favor of a more linear climb to suspense, but the reintroduction works to show the clever manipulation and loss of innocence.
No scene in the film is more telling than the first conversation between Pablo and Nick, as the respected Colombian wakes up the young man asking what he does for a living, if he believes in God, and if he does drugs. Surf lessons, yes, and no are his answers which Pablo finds satisfactory, giving Nick the blessing with his naive niece. Del Toro is so convincing in this scene we almost forget about the predicament he places Nick in during the opening of the film. Stefano’s script never attempts a biography, in fact Del Toro’s screen time is quite limited, which makes him all the more mysterious and frightening. There is an action/suspense element to the film which never sacrifices performance. It’s a haunting cinematic experience contrasting a loving culture and breathtaking coastline with the most horrifying violence and shameful betrayal that crippled a country.
Haunting and unforgettable due to the career high work of Hutcherson and Del Toro.