Loving Pablo review – Javier Bardem’s Escobar flick fails to sniff out new lines
Fernando Léon de Aranoa’s retelling of the cocaine kingpin’s story struggles to stand out in the Narcos landscape, but one scene sticks in the memory
If nothing else, Fernando Léon de Aranoa’s latest film Loving Pablo has given us the sight of a corpulent Javier Bardem hustling nude through the jungles of South America, semi-automatic rifle in hand, desiccated buttocks practically flapping in the wind. It’s a bizarre scene, kind of funny and kind of pathetic, and thoroughly memorable. If only Aranoa could conjure another scene, even another image quite as surreal.
Because everything about Pablo Escobar, the paunchy cocaine baron Bardem effortfully portrays in this adaptation of the memoir Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar, was larger than life. Already dramatized everywhere from Netflix’s Narcos to a movie-within-a-movie on Entourage, his story brings him from humble beginnings as the most ruthless kingpin in Colombia through a stint as a publicly elected (well, “publicly elected”) official to his inevitable fall from power.
Aranoa’s film attempts to put a new spin on this colorful tale by telling it through the perspective of that memoir’s author, Escobar’s longtime mistress Virginia Vallejo (Penélope Cruz). But even with the newscaster-turned-accomplice calling the shots, Escobar remains the star of the show.
As with the Lorraine Bracco’s point-of-view move in Goodfellas, the film places a greater focus on the notion of unwilling complicity than most in the gangster genre, but still struggles to produce much original insight. In adherence with an apparent rule that all crime sagas must begin in medias res, we first join Virginia as Pablo’s empire crumbles and she takes asylum in an undisclosed location with DEA protection, represented in the film by a savvy agent courtesy of Peter Sarsgaard.