MOVIE: LOVING PABLO
STARRING: JAVIER BARDEM; PENELOPE CRUZ; PETER SARSGAARD; JULIETH RESTREPO
DIRECTED BY: FERNANDO LEON DE ARANOA
AMovieGuy.com's RATING: 2 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
Pablo Escobar has become a fascinating person to study for our entertainment purposes. Audiences have always been interested in stories of mobsters, gangsters, and drug kingpins, with Escobar being the recent one to get the most attention. With the success of the Netflix show Narcos, the 2014 film Escobar: Paradise Lost starring Benicio Del Toro, Bryan Cranston hunting down Escobar in The Infiltrator, Tom Cruise supplying Escobar's cocaine to the U.S. in American Made, and countless other documentaries, It's like were living in an Escobar entertainment revolution. And now we get Loving Pablo, written and directed by Fernando Leon de Aranoa, from the book by Escobar's former girlfriend Virginia Vallejo. Javier Bardem stars as the Columbian drug lord, in a standard biopic, told from Vallejo's point of view, played by Penelope Cruz. It's a linear story of Escobar's rise to power, with strong performances, but not enough depth to give Loving Pablo a load of praise.
This marks the fourth time that the married couple of Bardem and Cruz have been in a movie together. The previous three, Jamon, Jamon, Vicky Christina Barcelona, and The Counselor have always dug into the depths of toxic relationships, drugs, and sex over love. Maybe it's the passion between the two, but they seem to bring the best out of one another. What can be said about Loving Pablo is that Bardem and Cruz bring their A Games. Bardem is unrecognizable at times. Either the No Country for Old Men actor gained a massive amount of weight for the role or has the Gary Oldman treatment, because as Escobar's power grows, so does his belly. For Cruz, she becomes a woman enticed by power and wishing she never got involved. Her love for Pablo is initially sweet and quickly turns into a woman scorned by a controlling monster.
The entire genre of the biopic is a beaten and dead horse. It is an extremely hard thing to get right and make fresh. That being said, Loving Pablo is written & directed by Fernando Leon de Aranoa, who makes films that largely focus on families and groups of working people. Here, we expect him to give more info about Pablo and Virginia's thought process in life. Why one would get involved with a mass murdering drug dealer? How did Pablo sleep at night, knowing he was a wanted man, and destroying the lives of everyone around him? Sadly, these questions do not get answered. Instead, we see Pablo's fast moving rise from small drug dealer, to political divider, to becoming the most powerful man in all of Columbia. Standard biopic.
Loving Pablo attempts to have an adversary character in a U.S. FBI agent named Shepard (a seldom used Peter Sarsgaard) who develops a connection with Virginia, but only as a way out, an answer for her to taking down Pablo. A majority of this is just going through the motions, because someone needs to be there when Escobar goes down. It is the mixed up, bi-polar focus that makes Loving Pablo feel half baked. In certain scenes where Escobar's hitmen-known as Sicario's- violently murder politicians and rival gangs, Leon de Aranoa seems to be celebrating the bloodshed instead of condemning it. And when the focus is back on Escobar the man, it is only then when the narrative feels re-focused.
I found Loving Pablo to be a valiant effort at the least. The look of it is good and the performances are top notch. If the script actually dived into the mind of who Virginia Vallejo was as a person, what she learned from her experience with Pablo Escobar, and why he became the most dangerous man of the 80's & 90's, we might have learned more in the process. Instead, you learn more of what you knew walking in: Pablo Escobar was a bad man and Javier Bardem is a phenomenal actor. Loving Pablo is worth checking out, but not without caution.
2 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady