[Review] Escobar: Javier Bardem plus fort than Narcos?


Drug trafficking and the 7th art have always gone hand in hand. But Pablo Escobar has been the subject of special attention in recent years. Does Leon de Aranoa’s formula make a difference?

Another film on Escobar? This is probably what the potential spectators are saying when they discover the threatening face of Javier Bardem made up as Escobar. It must be said that the Don has enjoyed a resurgence of interest from the studios for a while, his bloody epic having previously been told in the very good series Narcos, the more confidential Paradise Lost or more evasively in the recent Barry Seal .

Works carried by talented artists (in particular Wagner Moura and Benicio del Toro) who knew how to deliver their own version of this extraordinary character. The exercise of the biopic was therefore risky despite a solid cast based on a duo of recognized actors.

Realizing this, Fernando Leon de Aranoa based himself on Virginia Vallejo’s story, “Amando a Pablo, Odiando a Escobar” (literally “Love Pablo, Hate Escobar” ). A book in the form of a biography, where the former Colombian television starlet delivers her vision of the man with whom she had an affair. It is therefore not a question of retracing the entire criminal epic since the film begins when “The King of Cocaine” is already at the head of a considerable fortune.

Like Paradise Lost before it, the feature film tries to distance itself from Pablo Escobar to better tackle it. The voice-over of Penelope Cruz thus retraces the deeds and gestures of this disturbing lover. But the director shows a staging that is a little too demonstrative, which tends to make the story of this woman who worked with him anecdotal. It is all the more unfortunate that the actress seems to have understood the role, halfway between seduction and personal ambition. In the end, it is always he who fascinates.

Bardem doesn’t have much to prove, but he is once again the main interest of the film. With a dark eye, he embodies a more nuanced Pablo Escobar than the others. His feverish performance suggests the mixture of seduction and violence at the origin of the phenomenon. The actor blows hot and cold on his model, transforming him one day into a little father of the people, another into a bloodthirsty psychopath.

His magnetic presence makes us forget a physical ungrateful to say the least and allows us to understand how a part of Medellín was able to consider him as a true benefactor. This human dimension is also the most frightening. The image of the boss crumbles along with his empire, the film not hesitating to show his cruelty or his taste for very young girls.

On the other hand, we regret bitterly that Spanish-speaking actors have to force themselves to speak English. If the accent and the many interjections in Spanish create a smokescreen, seeing Escobar speaking like this to his lieutenants will disturb viewers in search of authenticity.

Leon de Aranoa punctuates the classicism of his staging with outbursts of violence that may disturb the most sensitive. They remain, however, impossible to elude, and allow us to put a few faces on the real urban war represented by the hunt for the trafficker.

Despite a few strong scenes, showing a plane landing on the highway or the agility of its motorcycle killers, the film follows its railroad a little too wisely, failing to punctuate it with truly striking dialogues. This tends to reduce the intensity of the narrative that weakens before entering an expected, but effective last third. An adjective that suits this film, which nevertheless lacks a true vision of a filmmaker.