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dir-scr Fernando Leon de Aranoa
prd Javier Bardem, Ed Cathell III, Kalina Kottas, Miguel Menendez de Zubillaga, Dean Nichols
with Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Peter Sarsgaard, Julieth Restrepo, Joavany Alvarez, Oscar Jaenada, David Valencia, Matthew Moreno, James Lawrence, Giselle Da Silva, Ricardo Nino, David Ojalvo
release WP Sep.17 vff
Power couple: Cruz and Bardem
TORONTO FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
This film is based on Virginia Vallejo's memoir Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar, and if it had stuck to her perspective it might have been a striking new approach to the well-worn story of Medellin drug lord Pablo Escobar. But Spanish filmmaker Fernando Leon de Aranoa tries to include extensive detail about the rise and fall of Escobar's empire, which leaves Vallejo as a side character. It also fails to make the most of either Javier Bardem or Penelope Cruz, even though both are on fire.
In the early 1980s, Pablo Escobar (Bardem) builds up one of the most profitable operations in human history. Notorious for his drug cartel, he craves respect for his humanitarian work and political savvy. He also has an eye for women, and his wife Victoria (Restrepo) patiently lets him have his freedom as long as their kids can have a normal life. His well-known affair with TV journalist Virginia (Cruz) is another story, but she remains loyal to Pablo even when DEA operative Neymar (Sarsgaard) offers to get her out of the escalating violence.
De Aranoa uses voiceover narration from Vallejo's book, making the odd decision to have Bardem and Cruz speak heavily accented English. This not only means that dialog is lost in the sound mix, but also that everything feels artificial. He also shoots and edits it as a breakneck action movie packed with outrageous violence, including torture and mass executions. But these aren't elements of Vallejo's story.
The film works best when it's sticks to Vallejo's point of view, giving Cruz meaty moments to play with, including the sex-based relationship with Pablo and her awkward encounters with Victoria, plus moments during which she feared for her life. Her scenes with Bardem are enjoyably flirtatious, and the superb Bardem adds a complex thug-like physicality. Restrepo has strong moments of her own, but everyone else, including Sarsgaard, kind of hovers around the margins.
Despite skilful filmmaking and acting, this material feels far too familiar. Vallejo's intriguing journey is swamped by the larger story, badly muddling the point. Is this a nod to a woman who protected her man until she was in danger? Is it about a man who achieved his dream but lost it due to arrogance? Instead, the strongest message is that governments can be bought, including Americans who chase Colombian drug lords only because, unlike the mafia, they take their cash outside the US.
|R E A D E R R E V I E W S|
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© 2017 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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