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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Blow

Starring: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz
Director: Ted Demme
Rated: R
RunTime: 124 Minutes
Release Date: April 2001
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Franka Potente, Paul Reubens, Ray Liotta, Noah Emmerich, Denis Leary, Lola Glaudini, Max Perlich, Ashley Edner

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

"Blow" is one of two movies opening within a week of each other (along with "The Tailor of Panama") that will be of particular interest to one segment of the movie-going population while disappointing another. If "Blow" is an urbane biopic about a major drug lord responsible for the majority of cocaine that came into the U.S. in the 1970s and not an updated version of "Scarface" as some might expect, then "Tailor," while featuring a womanizing James-Bond sort of feller, is more for lovers of chess matches than video games. The producers of "Blow" are intent on marketing the movie as "based on a true story," the very genre that is often the affliction of successful drama. "Sticks too close to real details to be compelling storytelling" is the usual criticism of biopics, which often come across as cinema verite docudramas, and "Blow" has its share of overly somber storytelling, particularly when conveying the downward spiral of its principal character. Given the charisma of Johnny Depp as cocaine kingpin George Jung, however, and the intense unfolding of the yarn from his beginnings as an child in a tension-filled household to a man who at one point possessed a cash sum of over thirty million dollars, "Blow" is a must-see for all who want proof that the greater the potential profits, the more graphic the risks.

Midpoint in the movie, George Jung's dad, Fred (Ray Liotta), looks over his son's huge Florida villa, late-model foreign sports cars parked outside with a staff of workers keeping them shining, and asks George whether he's happy. Sure, the audience must be thinking, I'll bet we're going to get the usual suggestion that happiness can't be bought and, indeed, George has to hesitate before answering in the affirmative. But as this very rich young man looks back later in his life--at the destruction of his fortune and the loss of his only child's love--we understand how he would have changed everything given a second chance.

Though I had never heard of George Jung, known as the most successful smuggler of cocaine into the U.S. ever (having brought in a whopping eighty-five percent of the coke enjoyed first by the beautiful people and then by partygoers and addicts alike), Ted Demme's down-to-earth brand of filmmaking shows us step by step how he rose to the top of the white-powder kingdom. As with any business, contacts spell success. Get to know the right people and you need not bother with the Sunday New York Times classified. George's motivation to get rich begins when at the age of eight he watches the plumbing business of the father he adores go belly-up to the disdain of his shrewish mother (played by Rachel Griffiths as a bourgeois beast from hell). Shucking the dismal, snowbound Massachusetts scene for sunny Manhattan Beach, California in 1968 together with his obese pal Tuna (Ethan Suplee), he fits right in with the beautiful beach bimbos who all describe themselves as stewardesses. His contacts first with hairdresser Derek (Paul Reubens) and ultimately with the biggest of the Colombia drug lords, Pablo Escobar (Cliff Curtis) lead him from selling marijuana to a weed-crazy college population to the purest cocaine, favored by actors and their hangers on. After jumping bail in two separate instances, he hooks up with party girl Mirtha Jung (Penelope Cruz), who loves him while he's swimming in millions but doesn't want him when he's down and out.

"Blow" lacks the intricate plotting of Steven Soderbergh's more complex and thought-provoking "Traffic" but in a way is of a part with Darren Aronfsky's "Requiem for a Dream." Though in no way as provincial as Brighton Beach's Sara Goldfarb, George shares with the unfortunate woman the effects of the wrong dream. Filmed largely in the Mexican states of Morelos and Guerrero to represents both the heavily fortified digs of Colombian kingpins, directed by Ted Demme with a sober respect for his subject and his audience, and blessed with the magnetism of a man who may well be America's finest young actor, "Blow" is a lively, trenchant tale of greed, sin and redemption.

Copyright 2001 Harvey Karten

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