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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
The Colombian, the Cocaine, and the Canadian
by Donald Levit

Escobar: Paradise Lost exists on several polar extremes. There is ex-car thief Pablo Escobar Gaviria, Benicio del Toro’s hooded eyes looming over a bandido moustache on the ad poster, above tiny white Nick (Josh Hutcherson) with an automatic pistol. There is love of family and extended-family community, opposed to blood, murder and inhuman callousness (not to mention the not-seen drug misery everywhere). There is Colombian Escobar’s sugarcoated ruthless realpolitik, versus the quite unbelievable innocence of Canadian Nick. Plus the pre-ending which promises a kid-glove incarceration accompanied by Godlike arrogance, as against the omitted real-life finale of flight from luxurious house arrest to a two-year search by a thousand-five-hundred-man unit and a 1993 fusillade of bullets on a suburban rooftop, along with continuing to this day corruption and Clan Úsuga drug trafficking and even enterprising Escobar-themed tourism.

A province of Colombia until we wanted the isthmus for a canal, Panama stands in for its more violent neighbor’s undeveloped beaches, pueblos, fincas and Medellín. With his married brother Dylan (Brady Corbet), Nick arrives and, choosing a sleepy coastal spot, begins clearing the area for a surfer-paradise business. Menaced by local thugs the Roldanos, they had nevertheless gone ahead, while at the same time Nick met, romanced and married María (Claudia Traisac), the pampered niece of fabulously wealthy local senator Escobar.

The young man’s obliviousness to the situation and what surrounds him is simply unthinkable. From long, highly publicized drug and political wars , the country had more displaced persons than any other except Sudan, Uncle Pablo’s henchmen had placed bombs, shot down opposition in the streets, downed a 1989 domestic Avianca flight in which all hundred seven aboard died, and paid two thousand U.S. dollars for every policeman killed. Forbes ranked his twenty billion dollars as the seventh largest personal fortune in the world, and he was among cartel capos who offered to invest in national development and pay off the country’s entire foreign debt.

But ignorant Nick remains, in Italian actor and now writer-director Andrea Di Stefano’s script -- until, married, pressured to have children like family man Pablo, and employed on that man’s Hacienda Nápoles and its exotic zoo, he at last senses some danger in the armed loungers captained by Drago Gutierréz (Carlos Bardem). Other events at last convince thick Nick and explain the June 18, 1991, opening frames in which he and María are afraid and he is summoned, blindfolded, to a meeting in the woods.

There, among “family” not of blood in the veins but of blood shed, full-bearded and paunchy in shorts, Pablo arranges for caching his wealth in different places and gives Nick the automatic with which he is to shoot the unsuspecting campesino hired to help.

Dead men tell no tales, and the cartel leader is set on eliminating foes and friends alike before a pre-arranged announced surrender to authorities the following day. Only the patrón’s wife and two children are exempt, blindfolded to protect them from manhandling to extract information. Most of the loyal gunmen are expendable, too, as are the trusting peasants who worship him for his chump change largesse.

The Puerto Rican actor signaling that there is something wrong from the very beginning, even when wonderfully scratching his socked foot but penning torture and death on his hand, Del Toro exudes menace, never more so than when, in hiding, he reads about Mowgli and Baloo to his kids and has them answer the phone for him.

His reality of inconceivable offhandedness behind power and murder makes up for the young lovers whose so-so story is the inadvisable entrée into his.

(Released by Radius-TWC and rated "R" for violence including grisly images .)

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