out of 4
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Review by Harvey Karten
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"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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