By Liz Lopez
Rating: B –
There have been multiple films written about or inspired by Pablo Escobar and his activities from Colombia and upwards to the United States (and this is not counting television programming). You might think, “oh no, not another one,” and chose not to learn more about the feature film “Loving Pablo” starring Javier Bardem as cartel kingpin Pablo Escobar, and the actor’s real life wife, Penélope Cruz, portraying Virginia Vallejo, a glamorous TV journalist who meets and falls in love with the man in the 90s. Despite the fact that the script by writer/director Fernando León de Aranoa (“Mondays in the Sun”) has some melodrama, it is made wholly engaging with the performances by Bardem and Cruz. For anyone who has viewed “No Country for Old Men” and saw Javier Bardem’s performance as Anton Chigurh, you will have an idea of his portrayal of Pablo Escobar. In one sequence he orders a gruesome chainsaw murder. He does not have to use words, but rather it is the lift of an eyebrow, or a specific look at the goons who work for him. All the while, there is liquor flowing and music en espanol blaring in the background. The film is almost entirely in English, and when it changes to Spanish, it seems Bardem goes full tilt to show Escobar’s behavior and actions.
There is also narration in some of the film, especially when we learn so many details about Escobar as told through the eyes and experiences of Vallejo, the man’s mistress. It doesn’t matter to her that Pablo has a wife Maria Victoria Henao (Julieth Restrepo) and two children. She is basking in the moments.
The audience will love Cruz as she portrays a single, glamorous and intelligent TV journalist loved by her Colombian viewers who soon becomes Escobar’s mistress as she is drawn in by his charm and power. She is in the upper echelon of Colombian society that is invited to the Escobar estate for a huge fiesta. Pablo is all about using people to get to the next step, so he sees not only her beauty, but a chance to get on to her TV program to show the fellow citizens how philanthropic he is building homes, etc.
It is not long before the reality of the Medellin Cartel is revealed on the worldwide stage when cocaine begins to flow freely into the United States. And soon, it is DEA agent Shepard (Peter Sarsgaard) who sets his eyes on Virginia too, but for different reasons. We watch Escobar do all he does as seen in other films, but watching Virginia be at the top of the mountain and hit the bottom, is quite the very real story here, as is the impact on the life of his family. Cruz’s portrayal of Virginia in a final confrontation with Pablo as she seeks to relocate from Colombia is easily one of the most emotional and unnerving scenes.
Is it any wonder that Virginia is approached to testify for the Feds? I won’t say much more here so as to avoid spoilers, but although this is a film that is not easy to watch, Virginia’s is a story that needed to be told to a broader audience. This experienced journalist knew how to tell her story and the filmmaker excels in telling this story of Pablo Escobar from her eyes.
Rating: R for strong violent content, nudity, sexuality, language and drug use. “Loving Pablo” will open in theaters and On-Demand/Digital on Friday, October 5, 2018.
Loving Pablo Interview with Writer/director Fernando Leon de Aranoa
What challenges did you have in writing the film?
FLA – The most challenging is how to tell such a wide story in two hours of film. It was most difficult! The story of the 80s is a huge/big thing – there were so many things/so many aspects. This is not only a story of a criminal. Escobar also became a politician and look what he did with Foreign Affairs. The information is so wide and very difficult to contain for 2 hours.
In order to do this, it was good to have had Virginia’s point of view. She was a journalist – not from the criminal world. She could give the story a big frame – from far away, but also as a lover in the close intimate world. We see it through her eyes. There are sequences of how he acted with Virginia, for example, we can see how tough he is when he gives her a gun and yet, small sequences show how different he was.
Did you get additional information?
FLA – First, I did the research on Escobar from papers, real news, etc. to get a global view in the 80s/90s. I decided Virginia’s is the voice to tell the history – also to get into this man’s world. It is interesting to get her voice, but also use the woman’s voice as a narrator. The information comes from the book, but also public domain.
I noticed the title change from “Escobar” to “Loving Escobar.”
FLA – “Escobar” was the first working title; then when Virginia’s story is being told, it was decided to change it. Also, the story she relates was 80s Colombia. The film shows what happens when you fall in love with them. It is interesting to be close to them, but then realize too late how this story will go. This is what happens when you fall in love with someone like him.
What was the desire or reason to tell this story?
FLA – This comes from years ago talking with Javier Bardem (“Mondays in the Sun” – 16 years ago). We talked about Escobar and I read plenty about it 14 years ago. It is unbelievable, not only as a tough criminal, but he founded all aspects of Colombian society. The history was so big – unbelievable but real, from the first moment.
Then 4 years ago, Javier and I talked again and decided to write the script. We found Virginia’s book and found it very interesting to have her journalistic side, as well as the close/intimate side. While trying to make the film, decided to use the book as a guide/narrator.
Say something to the audience?
It was challenging to do the film, and felt this wide story with lots going had to be told on the big screen. It is a pretty intense story. Both Javier/Penelope have strong characters and they are incredible actors.