Photo: Barna Tanko/Shutterstock

Films That Misrepresent Colombia…and Some Which Don't

Bogotá Entertainment
by Richard McColl Dec 23, 2008
Hollywood hits and misses on films about Colombia.

REMEMBER THAT GUY IN the pub or the frat house who would always point out the inconsistencies and errors in a movie?

How about that erudite character who would always (without fail) mention that “the book was better than the film” or the irrepressible geek who must have had an almanac of the “Top 10” of everything written on his forearms to be able to produce statistics and facts on any subject?

Being a well-traveled and worldly bunch, we may have all become that “guy” to some extent. We all have opinions and harbor an inner desire to holler at the misrepresentations brought about by powerhouses in Hollywood.

Or do I stand alone on this one?

This whole diatribe came about when I managed (albeit painfully) to sit through all 108 minutes of the unwatchable Schwarzenegger vehicle, Collateral Damage (2002) some weeks ago.

The errors were glaring, the inconsistencies hurt, and moreover, it got me to thinking about all the time Hollywood had spent and the money invested into painting an inappropriate portrait of Colombia.

Some errors are glaring examples of poor judgment, others involve deeper misunderstanding.

For those who have followed my ruminations in various sources of the Matador Network it is no secret that I am a Colombia-based freelance journalist.

I own a new guesthouse in the Macondian destination of Mompos, and my bias is obvious, unbridled and loud.

The films that follow are in no particular order.

Collateral Damage (2002)

It just so happens that the guerrilla/rebel base in Collateral Damage, a flick in which we are hard pushed to imagine an aging yet hulking Austrian Governor of California going undercover in the Colombian jungle, is in Mompos.

How director Andrew Davis or the three credited writers got away with this is unknown to me. So, in 108 minutes, I became that guy.

Mompos is not in the jungle and is far from being a rebel lair. In fact, back in 2002 it did not suffer from any rebel incursions.

Mr and Mrs Smith (2005)

Doug Liman’s pseudo assassin romantic comedy initially fell when shown in Colombian cinemas with the partisan crowds guffawing with laughter or walking out in disgust.

Bogota is portrayed as a humid, elegantly decaying colonial slum with bombs detonating and stray bullets thudding into buildings.

Architecturally, the setting resembles Cartagena – without the throngs of cruise ship day-trippers – but of course I hasten to add that bombs exploding relentlessly and disparately cannot be further from the truth.

Also, just for the record, Bogota has an altitude of rough 2600 meters and is far from tropical – a minor oversight.

Blow (2001)

Ted Demme’s opus features Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruise delves into the greed and excesses of the 70’s and 80’s cocaine trade with admirable aplomb but overlooks the very fact that Pablo Escobar‘s ranch, Hacienda El Napoles in the Aburra Valley close to Medellin should not appear like a Mexican finca.

The environs shown are dusty and arid; the department of Antioquia in this region is anything but. It is verdant and lush, and Escobar’s finca was considerably more opulent than the version shown on screen.

Proof of Life (2000)

The film that is mainly remembered for setting the stage for Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe’s amorous dalliance.

In effect it is not a bad yarn, but it all seems too convenient, the characters are too polished to be out here and it is all filmed in Ecuador with obvious Ecuadorian backdrops but is placed in the film as a fictional South American nation of Tecala.

Just check out the closing shot of La Virgen del Panecillo that towers over Quito. The ELT (Tecala Liberation Army) can only be loosely based on Colombia’s FARC or ELN.

It is worth noting that the kidnapping of foreigners in Colombia has been falling year on year in line with overall kidnapping statistics for this country.

Clear and Present Danger (1994)

The frenetic hijacking scene involving the white Suburbans was meant to be Bogota, it is of course filmed in Mexico, and does not represent the low nature of the houses in the Candelaria, Bogota’s downtown historic district.

With regards to foreign interference in Colombia’s conflict, perhaps Harrison Ford through the medium of Tom Clancy’s writing came close through jumbled sequences t explaining some of the complexities faced here.

The Good

To get a better flavor of contemporary Colombia, see the following films that pull punches and deliver.

We are all aware of Colombia’s justifiable cocaine induced notoriety. Perhaps we need to leave the movie-making to the Colombians and indie film makers more disposed to telling the whole story and portraying real and different angles.

Maria Full of Grace (2004)

Maria Full of Grace is a sympathetic view of a girl’s experience in becoming a drugs mule transporting cocaine pellets in her stomach to the US. The footage in Queens is particularly convincing as several of the characters are playing their real life roles.

Sumas y Restas (2004)

This movie is quite effective in showing how a Medellin engineer became involved in cocaine industry in the 1980s. Watch as his life spirals out of control and pay attention to the Jekyll and Hyde character of his narco contact.

Paraiso Travel (2007)

Perhaps the best film to come out of Colombia last year. An interesting take on two young Colombians who make the journey illegally to the US. You can easily put yourself in the young man’s shoes – lost and a long way from home.

La Virgen de los Sicarios (2000)

A harrowing and bloody tale of assassins in Medellin. Perhaps the most gruesome of all the films listed in this piece. But there is no joking that Medellin back in the day was a dreadful place. The turnaround has been shocking.

Sonar No Cuesta Nada (2006)

Based on the true story of a Colombian army outfit that, upon stumbling upon some hidden guerrilla wealth, decided to share it out amongst themselves. Poorly paid and often forgotten these soldiers did what many of us would do. Many remain on the run while other languish in prison.

Killing Pablo (2009)

This upcoming movie is based on the life of Pablo Escobar. Based on Mark Bowden’s best selling novel, originally Javier Bardem was slated for the part of Pablo Escobar but reports say that Edgar Ramirez is now favoured..

We wait and see.

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