“It’ll be easier to kill him if you know nothing about him,” Pablo (Benicio Del Toro) to Nick (Josh Hutcherson)
Blood washed off a henchman’s legs. An entire family is murdered. Benicio Del Toro’s drug emperor Pablo Escobar wakens young surfer Nick Brady (Hutcherson), à la Daniel Day-Lewis in GANGS OF NEW YORK, to check his intentions re niece Maria (Claudia Traisac). Menace is not in short supply. How do you portray one of the most infamous narcotic kingpins in history? Danger of glamorisation, and descending into excess, must worry a filmmaker (we only need one SCARFACE). An entry point is sometimes required into the larger than life; see for example James McAvoy’s THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND doctor sucked into the vortex of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. Coming at such a subject through relatable and specific eyes can be argued to ground the unfathomable.
June 18th 1991, Medellín, Columbia, Nick sits in a church dreading imminent arrest (or worse). Cutting back to a meeting, it could be a support group if not for the presence of Escobar. Nick and select employees have a task. Pablo has negotiated with the authorities to turn himself in for a plea deal. Before internment, unlike Edward Norton in THE 25TH HOUR, Escobar’s objective is to hide his economic power from his enemies, while he is out of circulation. Eggs not all in one basket, Nick and a partner have a cave to secure a portion of the accumulated opulence. An equation concocted by the filmmakers is presented to us:
Del Toro + people’s reactions to his character + Clint Mansell-esque music = fear.
Nick is required to kill his assigned partner once the mission is complete; a job demand sucker-punching him at its request. Time rewinds again, to one of the idylls of the title (the other of course is innocent ignorance). Twenty-something Canadian surfers make camp by a Columbian beach; the focus is two brothers: Nick and Dylan (Brady Corbet). Feisty local beauty Maria catches the eye of the former, who he begins courting. It just so happens that her uncle is Pablo Escobar: Politician, Robin Hood figure to the poor, and international cocaine trafficker. Love and naiveté allow Nick to live in denial, even amidst sibling warnings. You know when neighbourhood thugs attack Nick, that act is not going unpunished.
At Pablo’s Hacienda estate, THE GODFATHER’s vibe of luxury masking a brutal regime is present. An efficient image: In a swimming pool party scene a kid plays with an Uzi water pistol. Succinct scene: Pablo and Nick conversing in the car, now owned by the former, that Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker were gunned down in 50 years earlier. When Escobar is liquidating his circle, he makes the analogy that he is Mowgli in THE JUNGLE BOOK saying goodbye to some of his friends – you’ll not look at that Disney classic in the same way.
How much of any of ESCOBAR: PARADISE LOST is factual, is actually of surprisingly little import. Abstemious contextualisation is an asset. The film conveys the intimidation and price paid for falling into the orbit of this level of criminality. It was never going to be fair, this fight for survival.
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