Friday, 25 December 2015

Escobar: Paradise Lost (2015) - Movie Review

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, which around here is going to involve keeping a promise I made about a year ago. Back when I reviewed Mockingjay Part 1, I brought today’s film and how I wanted to check it out based on the strength of Josh Hutcherson’s performance. Well, as I inch closer to the end of my December double feature fest, I figure now is as good a time as any to give it a try. This is Escobar: Paradise Lost.

The plot: Canadian surfer Nick (Josh Hutcherson) has moved to Colombia to help his brother Dylan (Brady Corbet) run a local surf camp. He soon falls for local girl Maria (Claudia Traisac), whom Nick later finds out is the niece of local drug runner Pablo Escobar (Benicio Del Toro). As their relationship grows more serious, Nick gets dragged further down into the world of crime that is Escobar’s terrain, making him question if the potential benefits are worth the prices he will have to pay.

This film feels like two separate ideas for the same story were sewn together at the middle, and they don’t mesh together in the best of ways nor does the film as a whole commence on the best foot. It basically starts out like your standard romance that just happens to have Pablo Escobar involved in it; Benicio Del Toro’s performance is good but, especially when compared to his work in Sicario earlier this year, it’s nothing too special. Not only that, Hutcherson as Nick doesn’t leave much of an impression either; he’s not bad but, for the first half, he just plays spectator for the events happening around him. His relationship with Maria also feels undercooked, playing out like yet another teen romance without much meat on the bones.

Then we get past the halfway point, and the film suddenly picks up tremendously. As we pick back up where the cold opening left off, with Nick being asked to kill someone, it not only feels like we’ve stepped into a different movie but a substantially better one as well. The bum-rush pace gains some stability, making the very dark events that take place feel a lot more stable. Del Toro’s previously bubbling menace gets pushed over the cliff, resulting in a genuinely unnerving antagonist. Hutcherson gets to tap into some proper emotional distress as his character cracks under the pressure of his circumstances, bringing back shades of what made his performance so strong in both parts of Mockingjay. This is honestly kind of surprising since the starting point of the film’s uphill climb, the confrontation between Nick and the person he has to kill, is a bit wonky. The script bluntly brings up how he has a wife and child in a bid to make Nick reconsider his actions, and show the audience what the dangers of what he has to do for Escobar. This would have been fine if it didn’t feel like it was being brought up solely to raise dramatic tension, rather than for legitimate character reasons.

Anyway, despite that hollowness, the proceeding hour of film is really damn good. Hutcherson’s performance as he frantically tries to get to his family and friends before Escobar’s men do is palpable and very intense. This is heightened by the direction, which combines fluid movements that show how Nick evades the cartel with optimal camera work, particularly the framing in the scene where he has a cover over him as he hides in a car. As we see Nick make his way from landline to landline, contacting people to try and tell them to get out of Dodge quickly, the inevitable outcomes for most of them hits like a brick thanks to the acting that I can’t stop gushing over and Max Richter’s ideal score. This all leads to a climactic encounter that, while diminished a bit by the epilogue, serves as a near-perfect finale for the tragic events that have transpired over the film’s final act.

All in all, while the first half is honestly pretty underwhelming, the second more than makes up for it as the stakes get raised and the acting improves alongside them. Hutcherson brings back that intensity that first grabbed my attention in the Hunger Games films and Del Toro shows more menace that he has built a healthy reputation for, while the writing around them shows just how dire Nick’s situation is and what he has to do to survive.

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