Escobar: Paradise Lost
dir-scr Andrea Di Stefano
prd Dimitri Rassam
with Josh Hutcherson, Benicio Del Toro, Claudia Traisac, Brady Corbet, Carlos Bardem, Ana Girardot, Micke Moreno, Laura Londono, Frank Spano, Tenoch Huerta, Manuel Gomez, Henri Bravo
release US 26.Jun.15, UK 21.Aug.15
14/France Pathe 1h59
Escobar: Paradise Lost
The perfect beach: Hutcherson and Corbet

del toro bardem girardot
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Escobar: Paradise Lost Strikingly directed and performed, this riveting drama could have been called Married to the Cartel. The messy, twisty plot has the ring of truth to it, even though it's mainly fictional. And Di Stefano's robust but unflashy direction adds real intensity as things get increasingly perilous for an innocent guy who finds himself at the epicentre of the 1990s drug trade.

After a flicker of what's to come in 1991, the film flashes back a few years to when Canadian surf instructor Nick (Hutcherson) lived on a Colombian beach with his brother Dylan (Corbet). Then Nick meets the flirty nurse Maria (Traisac), and she introduces him to her famous uncle Pablo Escobar (Del Toro), who welcomes him to the family. As he's pulled in, he realises that Escobar is much more than a champion for the poor: he's a ruthless drug kingpin. And as the police close in, Pablo sends Nick on a dangerous mission.

Told through Nick's wide eyes, the film shifts from sunny to edgy to very dark as it goes along, putting the audience into Nick's increasingly terrified shoes. The first two-thirds are light and quietly dramatic, then the action kicks in for the final half-hour, which is breathlessly intense. The settings are beautifully shot by Luis Sansans, with a earthy sense of culture that quietly shows why the people think of Escobar as a hero for providing badly needed health and education. And yes, Escobar sees himself as a local hero.

Del Toro is magnetic, oddly sympathetic for such a real-life villain, with his humble beginnings, family values and deep-seated religious beliefs. But his gentle, generous manner obscures the coiled snake underneath, ready to strike without ever raising his voice. Hutcherson is superb as a naive guy caught up in something far outside his frame of reference. So while his romance with Traisac is underdeveloped, it adds weight to what comes later. And Hutcherson sharply plays Nick's shocking moment of truth.

This is also a complex exploration of Colombian history. "Drugs eat the souls of many great men," Escobar says while talking about how coca is one of Colombia's natural resources, with huge demand in North America. Escobar's mix of humanitarian good and ruthless violence is fascinating. And even as the story gets increasingly nightmarish and bleak, the film makes an intriguing comment on how easy it is to buy public adoration while engaging in private wrongdoing, which all of us have seen first-hand.

cert 15 themes, violence 16.Aug.15

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