"Is this thing on?"

“Is this thing on?”

Pablo Escobar Gaviria was a larger than life character, whether we like it or not. Because he was notoriously shady in spite of his gregarious public persona, any attempt to portray him is bound to come short. Escobar could be your staunchest ally, until you stop being of any use.

Escobar: Paradise Lost does several smart things in its approach to the drug lord’s life and times. It doesn’t face the notorious criminal directly, but through a character in the periphery. The movie also focuses on a fairly limited period of time, namely Escobar’s final week of freedom before handing himself to the authorities, plus some extended flashbacks. Finally, the film picks the one actor who can pull a role this complex without affectations: Benicio Del Toro.

The Oscar winner treats Escobar as an omnipresent force that is impossible to escape once you have fallen under his influence. Is what happens with Canadian surfer Nick (Josh Hutcherson), who has the terrible idea of falling in love with Pablo’s niece. In the beginning, Nick enjoys the perks of being in the inner circle, but soon enough avert his eyes stops being good enough.

Allegedly based on real life events (more hearsay than actual documentation) Escobar: Paradise Lost is capable of putting together genuinely tense sequences. In fact, the denouement is a tour de force. The problem is in the quiet times. The relationship between Nick and Escobar’s niece is pedestrian at best, and the red flags could have used a fresh coat.

The movie’s biggest surprise is Josh Hutcherson. Far from the emasculated Peeta of The Hunger Games saga, here Josh (as Nick) is more proactive, even though the forces he is dealing with are as big as The Capitol. Hutcherson shows some range and may have a future beyond the young-adult juggernaut. As for Del Toro, he continues to fly under the radar, yet delivering consistently good work. You have to look him up beyond the Marvel Universe, but it’s worth the effort.

Three prairie dogs and their little friends. Escobar: Paradise Lost is now available on demand.