VOD film review: Escobar: Paradise Lost
James R | On 21, Aug 2015
Director: Andrea Di Stefano
Cast: Josh Hutcherson, Benicio Del Toro, Claudia Traisac
Watch Escobar: Paradise Lost online in the UK: Sky Cinema / NOW / TalkTalk TV / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play / Rakuten TV
When is a biopic not a biopic? When it’s about someone else entirely. That’s the curious decision behind the true-but-not-true tale of Escobar: Paradise Lost. It’s an approach that can work wonders, if your protagonist is engaging enough to play off their more famous counterpart (My Week with Marilyn), or it can leave you longing for a different story altogether (David Duchovny’s latest TV series, Aquarius).
In the case of Andrea Di Stefano’s historical fiction, it just might work in its favour. The film arrives in cinemas and on VOD just ahead of Netflix’s new original series, Narcos, which also follows Pablo and co. as he is tracked by drug enforcement officials. Rather than focus on the Scarface-like rise to power, Di Stefano’s script (co-written with Francesca Marciano) follows Nick (Hutcherson), a white boy surfer who finds himself falling for the beautiful Maria (Traisac). Their romance is sweet enough, but things take a sour note when Nick realises that Maria’s uncle is the Colombian drug lord.
Benicio Del Toro is wonderfully imposing as Uncle Pablo. More beard than man, he looms over proceedings, despite being in the background for much of it; even him playing in a swimming pool is strangely intimidating. It’s a performance that suits the title: the story of Nick and Maria’s love unfolds permanently in Escobar’s shadow. Take away that and you’re left with “Paradise Lost”, a far less appealing narrative.
But if our gringo and his girl are less interesting than her threatening tío, their tale also stops Del Toro’s dedicated turn from descending into conventional, weighty biopic territory. The framing of the story, meanwhile, finds suspense in the journey of Nick from innocent bystander to complicit sidekick: the climax, set up by the opening scene, revolves around whether or not he can kill someone. Hutcherson brings enough charisma to his good guy stereotype to sell his fear of the world around him, a quivering wreck to Benicio’s hairy straight man. A conversation between them in a car injects events with a gripping pace – and even if that initial high wears off, the second half (which defaults to generic thriller mode) carries enough of a buzz to keep you hooked.
Escobar: Paradise Lost is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW, as part of a £11.99 NOW Cinema Membership subscription – with a 7-day free trial.