Friday, October 5, 2018

Movie with Abe: Loving Pablo

Loving Pablo
Directed by Fernando León de Aranoa
Released October 5, 2018

It often happens that two projects about the same subject are released around the same time. It’s rare for both to be equally successful, and usually it’s the one that comes out first which receives more positive reviews from audiences and critics alike. There are always differences between the two approaches, even if the story is extremely similar. Discerning their quality requires a step back to understand what the source material might be, what has been included and omitted, and what style is used to present it. Seeing one first doesn’t necessarily mean that a fresh take is what counts, as in some instances the later product really is inferior.

Virginia Vallejo (Penelope Cruz) is a famous television journalist invited to a party at the home of Colombian rising star and recent millionaire Pablo Escobar (Javier Bardem). Virginia becomes entranced with this gregarious and powerful man, who attempts a career in politics only to be told that the sins of his past are too great, leading him to become a villain in his country, even setting up his own mansion-like prison when it becomes clear that he has no choice but to appear to yield to the authority of both his and the American government, though, as Virginia begins to realize, he is still very much in control of his situation and everything around him.

Escobar, as portrayed by the immensely talented Wagner Moura, was the subject of the first two seasons of Netflix’s magnetic and excellent series “Narcos.” The use of archive footage is prevalent here as it is there, and Virginia, initially presented as a character in her own right, becomes just another narrator to tell Pablo’s story, which is undeniably fascinating. After a slow start, the terror grows for Virginia as she realizes what Pablo does and what he’s capable of when he’s angry, and the film gradually develops its own style as it goes along. Compared to Netflix’s undertaking, however, this effort is a pale imitation that doesn’t provide nearly as much intrigue or compelling drama.

The decision to shoot this film in English is puzzling at best, since director Fernando León de Aranoa and stars Cruz and Bardem are all native to Spain, and Spanish is the primary language of Colombia that all of its characters should speak, aside from when they are addressing American operatives, like Peter Sarsgaard’s DEA agent. It dilutes the story and the overall effectiveness of the film, one that’s often told better from afar through the voice of someone like Virginia. Cruz is strong, and while Bardem might seem like the perfect fit to play Pablo, this is hardly one of his more memorable or chilling performances despite the potential of the role. For those who want to see Pablo portrayed on screen, check out the superb “Narcos” over this mediocre film.


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