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Movie Review: 'Escobar: Paradise Lost'

In the Garden of Good and Evil: Josh Hutcherson, Claudia Traisic and Benicio Del Toro in "Escobar: Paradise Lost."

Traffic meets Blow in Andrea di Stefano's portrait of the infamous Colombian cocaine cartel kingpin, Escobar: Paradise Lost. 

Benicio Del Toro plays Pablo Escobar with a mix of kindness and madness; one minute he's playing with his kids, the next he's ordering the murder of the country's Justice Minister. Fans of Del Toro's roles in Traffic (for which he won an Oscar in 2001) and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas will appreciate his rugged portrayal of South America's Robin Hood.

Despite his brutal methods, Escobar was loved by locals. He built soccer fields and spread his wealth among the poor, who knew little about how he made his money.

But that's only part of the story told by first-time writer-director di Stefano, who blends facts with fiction to create a romantic subplot that's not quite believable.

Benicio Del Toro deserves an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Pablo Escobar. He's riveting in every scene.

Brothers Nick (The Hunger Games' Josh Hutcherson) and Dylan (Brady Corbet) are surfers who set up camp on a Colombian beach. Dylan meets Maria (Claudia Traisic), who happens to be Escobar's niece. They fall in love and soon relocate to Escobar's sprawling hacienda in the mountains. At first Escobar embraces Nick, though he doesn't quite trust the Canadian gringo.

Gradually, Nick learns about Escobar's drug business and merciless methods. While Dylan is stunned that Nick would associate with a killer, Nick's love for Maria blinds him, so he sticks around the hacienda doing odd jobs.

In the last act, Escobar hatches a plan to hide his money before he goes to jail. He instructs Nick and several others to stash the loot in rural locations, then kill the associate who led them there. But Escobar also intends to have all the drivers killed, forcing Nick to defend himself against Escobar's henchmen.

The problem with Escobar is that this storyline is pretty far-fetched. Di Stefano made it all up, based on something an Italian police officer told him about a “young Italian fellow who went to Colombia to meet his brother, somehow became close to the Escobar family and then got in trouble.”

While Hutcherson is fairly bland and unconvincing, Traisic's impressive as the smitten ingenue. Del Toro deserves an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Escobar, but probably won't receive one because of the indie nature of the film. He's riveting in every scene. Filmed in Panama, Escobar (in limited release now) has an authentic look, thanks to Luis David Sansans' cinematography. 

No cocaine is used during the film, though the powder's presence looms large. But it's more about amassing money, arms and power. Escobar had his rise and this movie chronicles his fall. 

Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of CelebStoner.com, editor-in-chief of Freedom Leaf, co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness, and the former editor of High Times.