Blow (2001)
Blow (2001)

Genre: Crime Drama Running Time: 2 hrs. 4 min.

Release Date: April 6th, 2001 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Ted Demme Actors: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Franka Potente, Rachel Griffiths, Paul Reubens, Jordi Molla, Cliff Curtis, Ray Liotta, Ethan Suplee, Max Perlich

 


 

“M

oney isn’t real; it doesn’t matter.” New Englander George Jung (Johnny Depp) idolized his hardworking father Fred (Ray Liotta), though the pitiable man didn’t make enough to keep his wife (Rachel Griffiths) from repeatedly getting upset, throwing a tantrum in front of the boy, and leaving for lengthy spells. Over time, the Jung family goes bankrupt, which prompts the child to promise himself never to be poor when he grows up.

And so, as an adult (in 1968), he moves to Manhattan Beach, California with pal Tuna (Ethan Suplee), where the sun always shines, the girls are exquisite, and everyone smokes pot. In short time, “Boston” George and Tuna become the kings of the beach, buying from Derek Foreal (Paul Reubens) to exclusively deal weed to the entire area. But there’s even more money back east, which lures them, along with George’s stewardess girlfriend Barbara (Franka Potente) and Massachusetts friend Kevin (Max Perlich), to begin transporting the lucrative drug back and forth across the country – in larger and larger quantities, until the airline and its two-bag limit is no longer sufficient. “We need to get to the source.”

By 1969, they journey to Mexico to find a major supplier. And by 1970, they have so much money they don’t know what to do with it, spending it on lavish parties and mansions on the beach. But the good times can’t last forever; in Chicago in 1972, George is charged with possessing 660 pounds of marijuana with intent to distribute. And then he discovers that Barbara has cancer, which will kill her before Jung is done serving the approximate two-year sentence. Skipping bail to take care of her, up until her death, George becomes a fugitive – and then, eventually, an inmate in a Connecticut prison, sharing a cell with car thief Diego Delgado (Jordi Molla).

“What do you know about cocaine?” As a biographical work (based on a book about a true story), the film moves swiftly, breezing through places and people and dates, covering a lot of time and territory as Jung graduates from grass to smuggling Colombian cocaine (starting in 1976). Narration and a rock soundtrack lighten up the mood and add further details, but the more valuable the loot, the more dangerous the scenarios – transitioning in comparable ways to “Scarface,” but without the violent edge. As the years pass, the deals escalate and the hazards skyrocket, culminating with the involvement of one Pablo Escobar (Cliff Curtis) – the boss of it all.

“It’s nice to have nice things.” Montages further segue between important events throughout the decade, chronicling the cocaine boom of the ’70s and ’80s, turning “Blow” into a brief history lesson. It’s halfway through the movie before love interest Mirtha (Penelope Cruz) makes an appearance. And although Depp has little range, he’s acceptable in the lead – a source of general calm and emotional steadiness, which contrasts the nervousness and paranoia and insatiable greed of his associates, creating the conflict necessary for theatrical drama.

With the editing style, voiceover commentary, and the allure of drug-fueled riches, “Blow” draws many parallels to “Goodfellas.” The themes are quite similar – along with the tone, the span of time, and the glamorization of crime (which makes the use of Liotta somewhat odd). The cast, however, isn’t as powerful, and the direction isn’t as engrossing; certain periods feel repetitive and the roles aren’t as sympathetic or unpredictable. Plus, there’s less comic relief to balance out the inevitable repercussions of a career of lawbreaking. The final act, which slows down the high-stakes madness in favor of smaller escapades and darker consequences (and a lack of resolutions), really brings down the mood; what was once a hectic, hyper soiree of drugs and revelry transforms into a sobering indictment of lawlessness – and one whose emotional impact fades with the indifference towards this largely colorless antihero.

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10