Loving Pablo, a biopic about the Colombian druglord based on Virginia Vallejo's 2007 memoir, has been panned by the small number of critics that have reviewed it. There are several probable reasons for this:
1. We have reached Pablo Escobar saturation. Entourage, for all its faults, was oddly prescient about where audience tastes would end up going. I mean, an Aquaman movie is about to be released, and you can't swing a hammer these days without hitting a film or documentary about Pablo Escobar. In that second category, some have been better than others but Narcos pretty much nailed the story of the infamous drug kingpin three years ago, so this bit of Pablo Escobarism is not only late to the party, but not very good.
2. The movie is really unbalanced. Real-life couple Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz play the main characters, and while this may have worked for John Krasinski and Emily Blunt, lightning did not strike a second time here. The film seems oddly conflicted about whether it wants the central focus to be on the relationship between Vallejo and Pablo, or on Pablo's rise and fall. It ends up settling on the latter, which means it is a machine-gun volley of Narcos episodes condensed into 2 hours. Trying to tell the vast scope of Pablo Escobar's life story over the run-time of a single movie in a satisfying and balanced way is a big ask, and the film is just not up to the task. There are a lot of pretty snazzily staged action scenes in the film (like a single-take shot of a helicopter crashing into a tropical village after being defeated by birds!) but they just feel empty and useless for the flat story the film tells. Everything is rushed, which dilutes its impact and the narrative arc is uneven, bowing under the weight of all the ground it has to cover.
3. For a film about loving Pablo, there's not a whole lot about loving Pablo in it. As the film morphs into an Escobar-centric pulpy crime thriller, Vallejo is pushed off to the side. Her principle purpose is to awkwardly narrate the things that are happening in Pablo's life, act drunkenly in love during the first half, and then get very screamy in the second. In real life, she played a significant role in testifying about the corruption in Colombia's government after Pablo's death, but none of that is mentioned here. It's not even hinted at. Instead, it is implied that she somehow had a hand in Germany's refusal of entry to Pablo's family, which helped lure him out of hiding and ultimately resulted in his death, and that is why the DEA whisked her off to the US. Then she ends the film with a terribly hackneyed line paraphrasing the title of her own book. It made me die a little on the inside. But it gave no indication of what her role really was in all this, other than to be a fairly superficial love interest for our villainous central character.
Now, if the film had really put in the work to develop the chemistry and the relationship between these two, it might have worked. It would have offered a fresh and unique take on the story (rather than just being a bland and confused Sparknotes version of Narcos). There is an interesting dynamic there, had the film been more interested in exploring it. Instead, Escobar hogs the screen as Javier Bardem does his best to melt into the role. I have no way of knowing this, but I suspect Bardem may have altered the original shape of the film to demand more screen time so he could parade around in his Pablo Escobar mustache, affecting mannerisms in an obvious play to the Academy's love of impressions. When filmed straight-on, he does nail the look, although any time he moves even slightly off-center the true dimensions of his gargantuan head are revealed and the illusion ruined.
But, you know, the film is called Loving Pablo. It should be about why this person loved Pablo, how she saw him from her perspective, why she would love such a terrible person, how that changed over time, and the complex human emotions that go along with all that. Instead the film is mainly about how Pablo Escobar became a drug kingpin, then got killed, and by the way a local TV personality flitted into and out of his life while all that happened. This gives Javier Bardem ample opportunity to wear a mustache and dress like a 1990s soccer dad while mumbling incoherently, but it doesn't make a particularly compelling or interesting film.