Chris Nashawaty
June 25, 2015 AT 09:14 PM EDT

Escobar: Paradise Lost

Current Status
In Season
120 minutes
Wide Release Date
Josh Hutcherson, Benicio Del Toro, Brady Corbet
Andrea Di Stefano
Romance, Thriller

We gave it a C

It might sound like a bizarre oversight, but there isn’t nearly enough Pablo Escobar in Andrea Di Stefano’s new film, Escobar: Paradise Lost. Instead, the story of the Colombian drug kingpin’s early-’90s downfall is told from the perspective of a Canadian surf bum (Josh Hutcherson) who travels to South America and falls in love with the narcotrafficker’s niece (Claudia Traisac), only to be sucked into her uncle’s violent web. The approach is both misguided and mystifying. We’ve all seen movies about famous—and infamous—figures told from the fringe perspectives of Rosencrantz-and-Guildenstern-type characters. But the biggest problem here is that Benicio Del Toro is so hypnotic and quietly compelling as Escobar, you want him to be in every scene, rather than AWOL for large chunks of the film. Hutcherson is fine (if a bit bland) as the naive gringo blind to Escobar’s blood-spilling reign of terror because he’s in love. But the actor just doesn’t possess the charisma to tide the audience over while they wait for Del Toro’s next subtle power play. With his sleepy, hooded eyes, shaggy beard, and bulging potbelly, Del Toro plays Escobar like a gone-to-seed psycho in gym shorts. He’s evil, to be sure. There’s a pile of his rivals’ corpses to prove that much. But he’s also a fascinatingly spooky contradiction. We see him basking in the proud glow of his extended family, crooning to his beloved wife, and desperately praying to God over the phone with his mother as the government’s noose tightens around him. One minute he might be dedicating a clinic to the poor like Robin Hood, and the next he’s quietly threatening his henchmen, trying to sniff out a potential Judas. Del Toro, even with his slow-pulse portrayal (delivered largely in Spanish), shows us all of Escobar’s varied sides and delicate shadings. It’s a terrific performance. It’s just a shame that his director thought it should be a supporting one. C

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