The grandly titled “Escobar: Paradise Lost” follows the fall of not, as Milton would have it, Man, but of one particular (fictional) man, a naive Canadian surfer who finds himself enmeshed in the turbulent life of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar.
When the film opens, Escobar (Benicio Del Toro) is about to go to prison. But before he turns himself in, Escobar wants to hide as much of his “economic power” (drug money) from his enemies (everyone) as he can, which is why he’s handing Nick (Josh Hutcherson) a 9-millimeter gun and providing detailed instructions about stashing his loot and then murdering the local farmer enlisted to help.
How did Nick get here? There’s an uninvolving flashback to happier times at the beach when Nick met local girl Maria (Claudia Traisac). She’s beautiful and idealistic. And she really wants Nick to meet her uncle. That first encounter, a birthday party at Escobar’s opulent estate, offers a note of caution. If your host lays out solid gold tableware, his Robin Hood persona may be more myth than reality.
Veteran Italian actor Andrea di Stefano, making his directorial debut, seems to believe that less is more when it comes to the film’s title character. But when you have the fortune of landing an actor like Del Toro, it’s almost criminal to spend so much time watching the scales fall from an innocent’s eyes when we could be watching a master actor convey quiet, sleepy-eyed, mumbling menace.
When the plot circles back to those opening moments, the movie finds a momentum that ends spectacularly. And again: Benicio Del Toro is playing Pablo Escobar. What more do you need?
“Escobar: Paradise Lost”
MPAA rating: R for violence, including grisly images.
Running time: 2 hours.
Playing: In general release.