Blow review

:. Director: Ted Demme
:. Starring: Johnny Depp, Penélope Cruz
:. Running Time: 2:04
:. Year: 2001
:. Country: USA

With a title like Blow, you can't help but expect a huge rush. Though with the main character's luck, it could just as easily have been titled "Against All Odds". Regardless, instead of deifying an unlikely hero a la Scarface, Blow proves to be its antithesis. It's about the rise and inevitable fall of George Jung, and how everyone else is to blame.

Johnny Depp plays Jung over some thirty odd years. The man who became Pablo Escobar's main U.S. coke connection got his start peddling marijuana (and smoking his share) to stewardesses in Manhattan Beach, CA in the late 1960's. Those happy go lucky years ended with a jail term and the death of his girlfriend (Run Lola Run's Franka Potente). As Depp advises in a voice-over, he entered prison with a bachelor's in marijuana and left with a doctorate in cocaine.

It's during this stint in the slammer that he and his cellmate Diego Delgado (Jordi Molla) plot to bring in cocaine and make themselves rich in the process. Their discussions are a highlight in the film. ("How do you do?" inquires Diego with a handshake.) Diego also introduces George to Pablo Escobar. This meeting of a long-haired gringo and one of the most feared drug lords ever is like Fidel Castro meeting the Pope in terms of two worlds colliding, though Fidel didn't walk away with a lengthy, mutually beneficial economic relationship.

To make a movie like this means risk. One because many will quickly dismiss a film about an unapologetic, not particularly brilliant though likable drug kingpin who keeps ending up behind bars. Two, while we love movies about addicts, dealers are the evil ones. When you have a dealer who also uses, and doesn't seem inherently evil, you have a problem. The U.S. public has very little sympathy for the big time drug dealer, and if they could be thrown on death row and their executions televised, my bet would be that they would trump NBC's "must see TV" lineup fairly quickly.

Goodfellas and Boogie Nights will inevitably be mentioned, as will Scarface. Blow certainly pays tribute (borrows may be a steelier term), but is really the antithesis of Scarface. George Jung is no Pacino. Instead of fierce intelligence, overpowering greed, and limitless ambition we have George Jung—he gets beat up, betrayed by the women around him (wife and mother) and keeps ending up in jail. It seems highly suspicious that someone sitting on a $100 million dollar cocaine fortune hasn't ordered a hit or two, and if this film is heavily based on Jung's account, then more sordid details have most likely been eliminated. I had the distinct impression that had he just stayed on the beach selling dope, he probably would have been a lot happier.

Depp's brilliance makes this movie what it. Classic Depp moments abound: like when he witnesses the miraculous birth of his daughter Christina in a pasty drug haze and ends up in a hospital bed himself. Or when he realizes that maybe his old man wasn't so wrong after all. As George's father Fred, Ray Liotta is the heart of this film and demonstrates honest strength. Rachel Griffiths has the thankless task of playing a mother that cannot be trusted. Penelope Cruz isn't given much of an opportunity except to be a wildcat coke-sniffing bitch as George's Colombian trophy wife Mirtha.

The circle inevitably closes in on George. To watch Depp's character mourn the loss of family as they further distance themselves from him is not easy. Mercifully, there are no requisite "I found Jesus" or "We forgive you" scenes. They don't forgive him and he'll have to live with himself, in jail. It seemed that Depp's makeup was going seriously wrong as he aged, but then a photo of the real Jung appeared and it all makes sense.

Though the film answers the question of how cocaine first entered the U.S., it's not Traffic. It's one man's story, and the effect his business had on the U.S. is not even a topic of discussion. Blow may not be mind-blowing, but Depp's performance certainly evokes something that erodes the indifference expected from the audience.

  Anji Milanovic

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