Written by Abbie Bernstein
Tuesday, 11 September 2001
|New Line Home Entertainment Infinifilm Series
||Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Franka Potente, Paul Reubens, Jordi Molla
Unless a viewer has a mindset in which the very thought of watching a
relatively sympathetic movie about drug-dealing is unthinkable, "Blow"
is a mostly agreeable tale of the rise and fall of real-life trafficker
George Jung, who claims to have smuggled in about 85% of the Colombian
cocaine used in the U.S. in the ‘70s and early ‘80s. The script by
David McKenna and Nick Cassavetes, based on Bruce Porter’s book, is
credible and interesting, and Ted Demme’s direction is lively if fairly
straightforward. The one caveat is that nothing very surprising
happens, which is a little odd, given the dramatic nature of George’s
adventures. Not only does the first-person narration indicate that
George has survived and is now in jail, but there are no scenes in
which anyone makes an unanticipated choice or events hinge on a strange
turn of fate. Everything unfolds more or less as we might expect in a
mixture that involves a non-violent American dealer, much tougher crime
family associates and the inevitability of detection by law enforcement.
George (Johnny Depp) introduces himself to us via voiceover, then
proceeds to show us his childhood in suburban Massachusetts, with his
adored working-class father (Ray Liotta) constantly caving in before
his cold, angry mother (Rachel Griffiths). George and best friend Tuna
(Ethan Suplee) head for Southern California when they’re old enough.
The late ‘60s scene in Manhattan Beach – full of bikini-clad
stewardesses cheerfully passing joints around – makes the duo think
they’ve landed in heaven. It is Tuna who first proposes selling weed as
a way to make money without getting real jobs, but it’s George’s
girlfriend (Franka Potente, of "Run Lola Run") who puts them in touch
with mid-level supplier Derek Foreal (Paul Reubens). George and Tuna
turn out to be successful salesmen beyond their wildest dreams. George
gets busted for dealing marijuana. A friendship in prison leads him
into the "blow" trade and eventual contact with Colombian heavy-hitter
Pablo Escobar (Cliff Curtis).
What is both good and bad about "Blow" is that the filmmakers keep it
at a level where they seem to be telling a story that could happen to
anyone who can’t tell when a good thing is going bad. We identify with
George, but Demme’s matter-of-fact style makes his journey seem oddly
mundane. When George forces himself to avoid much visible reaction to
seeing a man shot in front of him, Depp’s naturalism and the quiet of
the ensuing scene tend to backfire a bit. We follow George’s lead and
don’t let ourselves fully absorb it, so that it has no immediate
emotional resonance – intellectually, of course, we understand we’ve
witnessed a murder, but it doesn’t feel as though some line has been
irrevocably crossed. Even the wealth and trippiness of the cocaine
culture never quite gets its due. George does acquire a fabulous house
for awhile, but the place never takes on a personality of its own – it
is just a backdrop, not something either lusted after before it’s
obtained or greatly missed once it’s lost (by then, George has bigger
things to worry about).
Depp gives a thoroughly fleshed-out performance as George – he takes us
into his head as he contemplates each new move. Although he is at times
visually hampered by the character’s appearance – the blond hair never
looks right on him and the middle-aged makeup for George’s later years
is more distracting than persuasive – Depp himself remains completely
convincing. Potente is a charmer and Penelope Cruz as Jung’s Colombian
wife is capably both all-out sexy and an all-out bitch. Liotta conveys
a gentle decency as George’s father and Griffiths shows us the profound
self-pity of George’s mom. Reubens is simply terrific as the playfully
campy yet pragmatic Foreal.
"Blow" is part of New Line’s Infinifilm series, which means it comes
with all sorts of pop-up special features that can be accessed on the
Infinifilm track. Many of the features can be found in more than one
place – if you don’t opt to view the "character outtakes"
(interview-style footage of the actors talking in-character) as solo
items, they will also crop up as options as the Infinifilm version
proceeds, as do deleted scenes and excerpts from director Demme’s video
"production diary." The fact subtitle track (which has to be enabled –
it does not automatically accompany the Infinifilm version or the audio
commentary, much less the regular version of "Blow") is pretty
informative, providing a physiological and historical overview of
cocaine – which countries used it in which centuries and for what
reasons – among other things.
The audio commentary track by director Demme and the real Jung has some
entertaining production anecdotes, although there are a lot of odd
volume shifts and a few drop-outs on Jung’s track (presumably because
he’s still incarcerated, he was recorded under less than acoustically
ideal circumstances). Nikka Costa’s music video "Push and Pull" is a
pleasant two-channel ballad. What seems to be a sonic glitch when the
song plays over the closing credits in Chapter 25 turns out to be a
deliberate (if debatable) choice when heard in the context of the video.
The 5.1 soundtrack is pleasingly directional, although the effects tend
to be more mood-setting than dramatic. Chapter 8 does have an
impressive, quake-like rumble that surrounds the viewer in the sound
system, just as on-screen law enforcement forces surround a house.
Otherwise, the main effects are jets in the rears Chapters 3 and 8 and
a forceful blast of Manfred Mann’s rendition of "Blinded By the Light"
in Chapter 12.
"Blow" is intriguing and well-acted. It works as a story of its times
and as cautionary entertainment, but it doesn’t manage to make us feel
that George is a man whose acts in some way ostensibly shaped a
generation. He comes across as merely a very successful dealer, not an
agent of dangerous social change. On one level, this lack of
self-importance is refreshing and makes George’s experiences in "Blow"
more universal, but on another level, we feel that we’re not getting
the full picture.
|English 5.1 Surround; English Stereo Surround
Audio Commentary by Director Ted Demme and Real-Life Protagonist George
Jung; Deleted Scenes with Director Commentary; Character Outtakes;
Nikka Costa "Push and Pull" Music Video; George Jung Interviews by
Demme; "Lost Paradise: Cocaine’s Impact on Colombia; Addiction: Body
and Soul; Fact Trivia Subtitle Track; Teaser and Theatrical Trailer;
English Closed-Captioning; DVD-ROM Features
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