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Blow  Print E-mail
DVD Drama
Written by Abbie Bernstein   
Tuesday, 11 September 2001



title:
Blow


studio:
New Line Home Entertainment Infinifilm Series
MPAA rating: R
starring: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Franka Potente, Paul Reubens, Jordi Molla
release year: 2001
film rating: Three Stars
sound/picture: Three-and-a-Half Stars
reviewed by: Abbie Bernstein

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.

more details
sound format:
English 5.1 Surround; English Stereo Surround
aspect ratio(s):
2.35:1 (Widescreen)
special features: Feature-Length 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
comments: email us here...
   
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 27-inch Toshiba








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