Witnessed at the 11th Dubai International Film Festival

Dubai Premiere: The Cinema of the World Gala Screening

 

Written by Ankit Ojha

 

What to Expect

Dun, Dun, DUUUUUUUUN. Oh, wait, it's NOT a biopic?

Dun, Dun, DUUUUUUUUN. Oh, wait, it’s NOT a biopic?

The life of Pablo Escobar has been amongst one of the most prolific lives anyone could have come across. Known to the public of his locality as the Robin Hood of Medellín, his origins have been way more sinister than would otherwise have been promoted around him. And Escobar: Paradise Lost has a lot of Pablo Escobar in it.

Only, it’s not a Pablo Escobar movie.

It’s a movie centered on another character and how he deals with Escobar. This piece of information should, in itself, cement the kind of expectations potential viewers of the film should have of it. I did end up catching it in its Dubai International Film Festival premiere, and yet there were a lot of constraints for me on the road between the viewing and the completion of my collage of thoughts on it that I feel it’s a bit late for me to present this as a DIFF review (it’s now publicly released), I’m still going to, for all it’s worth.

What’s it About?

Nick (Josh Hutcherson; The Hunger Games) and his brother (Brady Corbet; Martha Marcy May Marlene) hit the Colombian coast with dreams of opening a surf shack amongst its picturesque locales. It is right then that he ends up meeting – and forming a heady relationship with – Maria (Claudia Traisac), who just so happens to be the niece of Pablo Escobar (Benecio Del Toro; 21 Grams). Little does he know that his involvement with Escobar is going to set in motion the wheels that only lead to death and destruction.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The powerhouse performance that one has always expected of Del Toro

The powerhouse performance that one has always expected of Del Toro

Of course, nothing but the best was expected of this film. After all, with the inclusion of an actor of the caliber of Del Toro, you definitely tend to expect something good at the very least. And for those very expectant viewers, there’s good and bad news.

But let’s for a change, start off with the bad news first. The movie feels very long. And I’m not kidding: it feels exceptionally long. Now, it wouldn’t be surprising, except for the runtime makes for a commendable 120 minute-long film – which, makes length the least of the film’s worries. What really sets out as the deterrent that the audience will face through their viewing process is the highly inconsistent pacing. Starting off on a pretty clear nesting-doll-esque narrative, the film does a great job in building terrific tension through its proceedings. But herein lies the problem: when we reach the point that sets the story in motion, the movie suffers a tonal shift from thriller to drama and romance. Of course, there are some jumps through the screenplay that include tension around its edges, but the edit decisions made were completely random and rather choppy.

My absolute favorite scene in this film is when Hutcherson’s character wakes off his hammock placed in a rather picturesque location, witnessing Traisac’s Maria. Sharing a rather passionate moment together, the film is taken to a completely different, surreal almost, high for the tone it’s achieving in the moment. There’s just one problem to it: the film in itself didn’t require it.

At all.

Now you might think: why would this count as one of my favorite scenes? Well, that’s simple: ’cause the very scene was spectacularly directed, supported by a score (Max Richter; The Lunchbox) that only tastefully enhances the emotive perfection it intended to achieve. That it didn’t fit in the film when looked at from a bigger picture, however, is more important. This, similarly, is what makes for the rest of the film: a collection of mostly riveting scenes, marred by some rather poor edit (the rather redundant black slug helping the film transition between scenes) and screenwriting decisions.

And yet, despite my sticklers with the film, there’s more good news than bad news, moderately making up for its shortcomings. The film scores high on tension and character graphs – particularly those of Nick and Escobar, whose psyches are taken down some interesting (albeit deja vu inducing) pathways. Richter’s enthralling background score will blow your mind away. The movie has a very good production design, balancing very well the lush beaches and forests with the grim setup. Helping the production design is the cinematography by Luis David Sansans, who lends through his frames a very postcard look to the locales.

To Perform or Not to Perform

Aww, that genuine chemistry!

Aww, that genuine chemistry!

Of course, there’s more than just those. Benecio Del Toro’s terrific performance takes the cake away. He stands out, despite a confused screenplay that’s unsure as to who should get a better deal out of Del Toro and Hutcherson – who, in all honesty, pitches in an equally brilliant performance. Claudia Traisac does a fine job looking pretty and delivering a performance that’s genuine enough to take us smoothly through the film and her involvement in it. Brady Corbet, unfortunately, is one person who’s received the short end of the stick here. An otherwise competent performer, Corbet doesn’t have much to work with; a shame, considering he’s delivered winning acts in the form of Martha Marcy May Marlene and Simon Killer prior to this one. Carlos Bardem pulls off sinister well. The others are efficient.

Worth it?

Well, from the point of view of the film setting in the expectation of a Pablo Escobar docudrama, it’s a complete and utter failure. But for a thriller, this film does more good than harm. Yes, its filled with some redundant edit decisions and a rather inconsistent screenplay, but the gripping tension, the involving direction and the powerhouse performances of Del Toro and Hutcherson help the movie sail through as a watchable film.

Definitely worth one watch, should the expectations be in check.

Star Rating: 3 / 5