Film truly is a director’s medium. Now matter what actors do at times it all depends on that person behind the camera and their vision. How the story is told is not up to the actors; they just bring it to life. That being said, Loving Pablo features solid performances by all the main actors = Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz and Peter Sarsgaard. The end result is the not the sum of these parts unfortunately.
In actuality I cannot heap all of the blame on director Fernando Leon de Aranoa (A Perfect Day) as even though he is also the screenwriter I don’t know if the problem lies within the source material, the novel by Virginia Vallejo, or his adaptation. As a film it is rather scattered and bipolar. I don’t know if it was a film that was intended to be a biopic of the famous Colombian drug dealer or a tale of the affair between Escobar and TV personality Virginia Vallejo. It flits back and forth never really devoting enough time on either ending up leaving the viewer rather unsatisfied. We don’t learn enough about either subject.
The story is told largely through a voiceover by the mistress Virginia Vallejo (Penelope Cruz – Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Blow). It is a tale of power, excess and eventual downfall. Pablo Escobar (Javier Bardem – No Country for Old Men, Skyfall) and his fellow Colombian cocaine moguls have made quite a splash. Breaking all the previous rules they have made a ton of cash slinging the snow. Considered the nouveau riche of the poor country, they have attracted plenty of attention. One set of eyes they have caught is that of television news anchor Virginia Vallejo. Vallejo, a beautiful woman, is the one used to turning heads so she finds herself in new territory not being the center of attention when she is with Pablo. It is 1981 and they are the new hot couple in Colombia.
They come together at a time in which the infamous Medellin cartel is being formed with Escobar at the head. He is pushing his cohorts to expand their business into the United States in a big way while he is also trying to win a political seat to make his son proud of his daddy. Plenty going on and Virginia gets caught up in the whirlwind.
Not that she is not enjoying all the notoriety and lavish gifts from her latest lover. She is a woman who definitely has her eyes on the prize and that prize is money. Right from the beginning Virginia decides that she is not going to worry about how her lover makes his money as long as he makes it.
Escobar’s drug dealing has caught the attention of the U.S. government and the DEA in particular. They want him captured and deported to them. As such, Agent Neymar (Peter Sarsgaard – Jackie, Green Lantern) has reached out offering a deal to Virginia. The first time he does she doesn’t need him or his deal. That time will be coming up shortly, though.
Colombian drug cartels are en vogue at the moment with popular television series Narcos burning up the small screen. Not surprising that others are trying to jump on board. This film taps into that audience, but instead of bringing us something with substance this is done in the vein of telenovela. Everything is big and glitzy. Director Leon de Aranoa has gone full camp here making it almost cartoonish. That is doubly so for Cruz’s wardrobe, makeup and hair.
Also, don’t think this is going to be a woman’s perspective of the goings on within drug cartel. That is only delved into superficially. Virginia plays no real part. Her most involved contribution is with her narration. Women are definitely still relegated to the background in this depiction of a almost exclusively masculine world.
It is an interesting move to have real life couple Bardem and Cruz play this onscreen couple. Will probably have the result of putting the film in the big theatres when truly it should be playing in small ones. Bardem has the more eye catching role though. With his huge girth (is that a prosthetic or real weight gain?) and unblinking eyes he has the intimidating nature of the man down to a T. Equal parts charismatic and frightening, Bardem never disappoints in any role he takes on. Cruz, though playing the looker, is rather underutilized here. She has on her hands something more akin to a daytime soap opera role. A shame as she is a talented actress, but has nothing really to work with here.Truth be told neither of the characters is very likable. Escobar…well…he is a sexist, power hungry sociopath with a huge ego and Virginia is a gold digger. Hard to cheer for either.