The Narco-tic Of Life: A Review Of "Loving Pablo"
The Pablo Escobar saga is a well-travelled tale that has seen countless interpretations; and this latest, a film directed by Fernando Leòn de Aranoa, and starring Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz, is the one that adopts a telenovela approach. It’s fast-paced, it’s lurid and at times over the top, but it manages to sensationalize while still being entertaining. And perhaps, having seen documentaries and/or the series Narcos, we can spell out the difference in this one to Bardem’s full frontal attack (both metaphorically and literally) on his Escobar portrayal.
Photos of the real-life people depicted in the film
Based loosely on the Virginia Vallejo memoir, Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar, the first person narrative here comes from the TV personality/journalist who fell in love with Escobar and was associated with him for years, up to his death in 1993. Vallejo is played by Penelope Cruz; and there are moments when the screenplay overplays the hand of the offscreen narration; but given that the incidents shown the film happened more than 25 years ago, it may be a necessary guide for this who aren’t fans of Narcos and are being exposed to this story for the first time.
What I did find surprising is the attack of director de Aranoa. Known for his 2003 Mondays in the Sun, which won several Goya Awards and was Spain’s official entry for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars that year; that film was a more nuanced, subtle, meditation of laid off seamen and coincidentally, starred Bardem.
Here, there’s a propensity to add so much colour, to exaggerate, and incessantly ‘press the pedal to the floor’, that there are several instances when I was yearning for more motive, for more depth and nuance to why things happened as they did. Yes, Medellin was a poverty-stricken slum area that Escobar ruled like some modern-day Robin Hood, but his blatant disregard for the Rule of Law, his adherence to narco-politics, must have succeeded based on something more than fear and money , and it would have been revealing to have studied that some more —why he became such an attractive alternative for a specific juncture in Colombia’s history.
I don’t see this film lasting more than a week in the theatres, so do catch this before it disappears. Both Bardem and Cruz are having fun taking ‘over the top’ attacks to their roles; and for that alone, it’s worth the price of admission. Yes, there’s a little bit of a Scarface, Goodfellas approach to the film, but it is more comic book and superficial—but that isn’t to say it’s not watchable.