Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz are riveting in “Loving Pablo,” an intense film about famed Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar and his volatile love affair with Colombia’s most famous journalist, Virginia Vallejo, during his reign of terror that tore a country apart.
“This is the first time I’ve had to leave a country,” Vallejo (Cruz) says in flashback.
In an unknown location in 1993, Vallejo is surrounded by Federal Marshals and Drug Enforcement Agency personnel.
“There were always dozens of white roses waiting for me in suites,” she recalls. “There were now uniformed men, instead of men wearing Armani.”
“We don’t give out aspirin anymore in this country. It’s considered a drug,” she is told by a DEA agent Shepherd (Peter Sarsgaard). She laughs.
“Pablo would have laughed at that as well. Then he would have had them all killed.”
She firsts meets Pablo years earlier at a party at his expensive home. “How did he make all his money?” she asks.
“That’s for a good journalist to find out,” is the reply.
Pablo shows her the housing developments he is building for poor children that the government has neglected. “That day I decided I don’t care how Pablo makes his money. Only how he uses it,” she says.
“Are you married?” Pablo asks Virginia.
“Not by choice,” she replies. “I am separated, but my husband won’t give me a divorce.”
After a “polite conversation” with Pablo’s men, Virginia’s husband signs the divorce papers.
One of their vacations is an excuse to attend a meeting of drug traffickers. Virginia is the only journalist with exclusive access.
“The worst thing I ever did before that was double park. That night they divided the United States drug territory between them. Seeing Pablo in his natural habitat was addictive. Because of them, Pablo was smuggling cocaine into the United States.”
They called Escobar’s crew “The Saints” because they make the miracle of multiplication, making a $6,000 kilo of cocaine worth $150,000 in the United States. They stop traffic on a Florida highway so a plane could land and offload its cocaine payload to the waiting crew.
Escobar is politically savvy, donating money to both candidates and campaigns, so he’s assured of political influence. He flies them around in his planes by day, and using the planes to make drug drops at night. He charts his personal political campaign for elected office, elected to the House of Representatives of Colombia in 1982.
“Do you want to be First Lady?” he asks his wife.
“I’ll settle for being the only lady,” is the cynical reply.
He is denied entrance on his first day, not because he smuggled $4 billion into America in less than a year, but because he did not wear a tie.
He smuggles large amounts of cash in Victoria’s suitcase.
“Have you heard of Nancy Reagan?” he asks his son, showing him cocaine. “She’s a very important woman. She says if someone offers you this stuff, you just say no.”
The chemistry between Cruz and Bardem is superb, each giving intense performances. The film pulls no punches, showing the graphically violent side of the drug business, murders and threats (including delivering a coffin to a judge to send a warning), and government corruption and contrasts it to the beautiful life that the illegal money provides for the traffickers, their families and lovers.