Based on actual events detailed in her memoir, “Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar”, LOVING PABLO recounts the love affair Colombian journalist and TV personality Virginia Vallejo (Penélope Cruz, MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS) had with Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar (Javier Bardem, MOTHER!; TO THE WONDER) from 1983 to 1987. It was at the start of their relationship that Escobar, as the head of Medellin drug cartel, was beginning to feed the American public’s hunger for cocaine, earning him an estimated US$21 billion a year at the height of his activity. But Escobar wasn’t satisfied with being rich beyond belief. According to Vallejo, what he really wanted was respect and he tried to get that by first buying off politicians of all stripes in his home country and, when that didn’t work, he ran for and was elected to office himself. As much as he was a thorn in the side of the Colombian government and judiciary, which were under tremendous pressure from the United States to curtail his and the other cartels’ smuggling activities, they were unable to do so for any great length of time. Anyone he couldn’t buy off, he had killed, paying poor young men from the city’s slums to become sicarios, or hitmen, for his cause. Vallejo, meanwhile, didn’t mind all the attention and money Escobar was lavishing on her. She had no intention of forcing him to leave his wife and two young children as long as the gravy train kept stopping at her front door. It’s when it didn’t anymore and her life became at risk that she decided to go to US DEA Agent Shepard (Peter Sarsgaard, JACKIE; AN EDUCATION) and seek protection from Escobar and his men in exchange for information on his whereabouts.
Cruz as Vallejo acts as the story’s narrator, providing the audience with mildly interesting details about Escobar that probably served to keep the film to just over two hours in length. Unfortunately, most of the time, the film is fairly dull. Yes, plenty of people get gunned down and sawed up but it’s done with little drama and, quite bluntly, on the cheap. When a helicopter crashes, it’s done off-screen and the only reaction we see comes from a character we know almost nothing about. For me, the blame lies with writer-director Fernando León de Aranoa (A PERFECT DAY) who wasn’t able to make a story worth caring about. Scorsese or Tarantino would have made this into an exciting film because they would have given it the strong jolt of Colombian espresso that it needed. To compound the film’s problems, it’s hard to feel any empathy for Vallejo. She was an opportunist who knew darn well who Escobar was and what he was up to early on in their relationship. As long as he kept her in the style to which she had become accustomed, she didn’t care… until it affected her own well-being.
LOVING PABLO is not a great film. Save it for when you’re on an airplane and you have two hours to kill. Maybe “kill” is a bad choice of words here.
Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live in RTHK Radio 4’s studio on Thursday, October 4th at 8:30 am HK time!
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