toronto film festival 2014

So Josh Hutcherson’s Escobar: Paradise Lost Character Is Just Peeta, Basically

Photo: Murray Close/Lions Gate Films Inc., Jaguar Films

In Escobar: Paradise Lost, the debut film from Italian actor Andrea DiStefano, Benicio del Toro stands out as Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. Despite the title, the movie gives more attention to the unwitting protagonist caught in Escobar’s crosshairs: a young Canadian surfer named Nick (played by The Hunger Games’ Josh Hutcherson), who falls in love with the dangerous cocaine king’s niece (newcomer Claudia Traisac). On the red carpet at the Toronto International Film Festival, DiStefano director told Vulture that he cast Hutcherson before The Hunger Games had turned him into a global teen heartthrob, but you’d be forgiven for thinking that Hutcherson was chosen to play Nick on the strength of the actor’s portrayal of District 12’s resident nice guy, Peeta, because the two characters might as well be twins. Here are eight ways they are the same:

1. Love is the root of all his problems.
Instead of chasing after Katniss, this time around, Peeta falls under the spell of Colombian hottie Maria, played by Claudia Traisac (in real life, too: The pair started dating during the course of the shoot). They meet in a Colombian village: He’s there to surf, she’s there doing charity work with her uncle, and they fall passionately in love (once again, Hutcherson remains an aspirational beacon for men shorter than their girlfriends everywhere). Then, in classic Hutcherson fashion, the relationship instantly thrusts him into a situation of mortal peril. Never get involved with an Everdeen or an Escobar, Josh.

2. He’s pulled from his humble life into an unfamiliar world of pageantry and excess.
Maria then flies Nick to live at her uncle Pablo Escobar’s magnificent compound. While the Capitol may have chariots and flaming clothing, the Escobar compound has giant model dinosaurs, an on-site zoo, and solid gold utensils (not to mention an ‘80s pageant wardrobe that would put Effie Trinket to shame). Even though he’s just a humble baker/surfer from District 12/Canada, Peeta/Nick adjusts pretty quickly to his new life of opulence.

3. He falls under the spell of an evil leader.
If you saw the first teaser, you’ll know that the forthcoming Mockingjay movie sees Peeta as a pawn of the evil President Snow. In Paradise Lost, once again, he is forced to do the bidding of an evil kingpin. (Is it just us, or is that cherubic face just asking to be victimized?) Just as Peeta is quick to fall in line when he arrives in the Capitol, sucking up to the higher-ups and committing fully to the pageantry and demands expected of him, Nick is initially wooed by Escobar’s charisma and charm. (He does eventually end up developing some cojones, but not before avoiding all manner of warning signs and exit opportunities.)

4. He’s not a killer, but he’s forced into a situation where killing is required.
Innocents being forced to kill innocents is the essence of The Hunger Games, and it’s also the central conflict in Paradise Lost, with Nick being sent on a murderous mission on Escobar’s behalf, but being unable to pull the trigger when it turns out his target is a child. What a softie!

5. A lot of people die because of him.
Yeah, no surprises here. Having Hutcherson around tends to be kind of a liability. (R.I.P., Mags.)

6. He spends a chunk of the climactic scene lying unable to move 
Peeta sits out a chunk of the second Hunger Games movie lying injured and useless in a cave after a run-in with some poisonous fog. Meanwhile, Nick spends much of the film’s climactic firefight hiding under a blanket and, despite being hunted by hundreds of Escobar’s heavily armed cronies, even manages to squeeze a nap. (To be fair, Nick doesn’t consistently screw up as hard as Peeta does, but still: a nap? In the middle of a firefight? Really?)

7. … and the rest of it running through jungles in peril.
Navigating heavily wooded terrain while being pursued by enemies is definitely one of the main skills in Hutcherson’s acting arsenal at this point, and he gets to utilize it plenty over the second half of the film. “Physically it was a big challenge,” Hutcherson told reporters. “There’s one scene where I’m chasing this young boy who I might have to kill” — sound familiar!? — “and we shot that film at this place … in Panama, and it was at elevation, so it was like a mile in the sky. So I was so out of breath, I was so tired. I was in okay shape but I wasn’t ready to run a marathon. It was pretty tiring.”

8. Ultimately, he’s kind of a wet blanket.
Peeta’s best and worst feature is that he’s just too nice, and that’s Nick’s problem as well. “I’ve been the victim of so many horrible men that, at some point, I’m really excited to play a real bad guy,” Hutcherson told Vulture on the red carpet. Yeah, sure. May the odds (of not getting typecast) be ever in your favor, Peeta.

Josh Hutcherson’s Escobar Character Is Peeta