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IN SHORT: Primo, but not the kind you expect. [Rated R for pervasive drug content and language, some violence and sexuality. 120 minutes]
"If you did coke in the late 70s or in the 80s, it's an 85% chance that it was my stuff," says Johnny Depp (click for StarTalk) in character as George Jung, the American branch of Pablo Escobar's Medillin cartel. So let's be straight about this. Drugs are bad. Coke is worse. We speak from experience because, as far as the statement goes, we're guilty as charged. Then again, we were young and invincible and in the rock 'n' roll business in 1979. We were the targets of the distribution operation Jung set up. But that isn't what Blow is about. In a lot of ways, it's about growing up.
The life on the line in Blow belongs to inmate number 19225004. It's story is of how only at the end, clean and sober and mowing the lawn at some Federal Yard, can he be truthful about how he pissed it away and lost the only thing that matters. We're not trying to sell you a sob story, folks. If you lost a loved one to the powder you're never going to forgive this guy. Honestly, we didn't much want to sit through another movie about the drug business so soon after Steven Soderbergh's Traffic. But we do trust Johnny Depp's judgment calls. He's always done interesting work, even in movies we didn't want to see, so we settled in and waited for the Percocet to take away the neverending pain in our crippled leg. (Ironic, huh?)
And damned if Depp didn't win our sympathy. Blow is not unlike the Godfather movies. You know the Coroleone Family are not clean and pretty upstanding members of the community but you connect with their private foibles. Same here. Raised in a blue collar Boston family where Fred Jung (Ray Liotta) worked fourteen hours a day by seven days a week and still went bankrupt, young George left the cold behind and went California dreamin' in 1968. Sharing a house with his best friend "Tuna" (Ethan Suplee), their life was spent meeting girls (stewardesses all) and partying on the beach. Rock and Roll and bonfires and pot. Party time. Endless spring break. When the money runs out, Tuna decides to go into "business" selling dope on the beach. He's got no connections and his product is crap, but George's girlfriend Barbara (Franka Potente) knows a guy -- a restaurateur/ hairdresser named Derek Foreal (Paul Reubens) -- who can fix them up. The pair find success. George's pal Kevin Dulli (Max Perlich), out from Boston between semesters opens up a trade route to the college campuses in the East where there is lots of money to be made. George finds he has a knack for the import/export trade, setting up direct lines to the pot farming fields in Mexico. The Summer of Love turned to Fall and Winter and everyone made a lot of money.
Yes, George Jung was a naive young man. A real antiestablishment type, quoting Bob Dylan to the Chicago judge who sentences him for trafficking. And while his life starts to crack apart at this stage, in ways we won't spill, it is in jail that George makes his greatest connection. That would be his cellmate, Diego Delgado (Jordi Molla) of Medillin, Colombia. Once out of jail, George finds himself walking the very fine line between making huge amounts of ill gotten gain and keeping the Colombian cartel happy enough not to put a bullet in his brain.
Here we get to the point of Blow, the shift from pot to coke and how it warped and corrupted and destroyed everyone. The sheer piles of cash stacked up in his house is visually intoxicating. The parties and famous hangers on and the greed that eventually led to betrayal rush through the images on screen just like a rush. And just as with the drug, the crash hits hard.
While his parents are not thrilled with the career choice their son has made, communication lines stay up. It is the relationship between Depp's and Liotta's characters that keeps Blow away from being just another drugs movie. George gets a wife, Mirtha (Penelope Cruz), ticking off at least one Colombian boss who had previously been engaged to her. He gets a daughter from that union. He also gets a habit so bad he almost dies.
And then he gets clean. The party ends and the evil that men do follows them forever. Three quarters of the way through the flick, we started to feel for the guy. We were truly surprised. It's a strange thing to look back on the party days of youth, remembering how Invincible (we) all felt. That exuberance got a friend of mine put six feet under from an OD. In George Jung's case -- and this is something saved for the very last scene, his payback is something quite different. Something we never saw coming.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Blow, he would have paid...
Strongly balancing Depp's work are great performances from Liotta, Cruz and Rachel Griffiths (as George's mom). We wrote about a different actor's performance in a different movie, last year this time, "why wasn't this movie released in time for Oscar?" Ditto. In Johnny Depp's case, the man has done the best work of his career. And he'll have probably have a mountain of opposition to overcome as the rest of the pack comes out at the end of the year.
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