by Greg Muskewitz
In the same sense of "The Dish" being very documentary-like, "Blow" very strongly follows with the narrative of the book it was taken from, though you can easily tell that director Ted Demme and screenwriters Nick Cassavetes and David McKenna are selective in what they choose to tell and how to shape your impressions and feelings of George Jung. And much of that is again like "The Dish" because this is based on a true story.A squeaky-clean, white kid of an economically pinched family (Ray Liotta and Rachel Griffiths) grows up to be the not-so-white Johnny Depp, or George Jung (pronounced as "young"), a naive slacker/hippie who has moved with his big friend (Tuna) from Massachusetts out to the sunny beaches of Cali. To bring in the funds, they start selling pot, and it becomes big, but not nearly as big as they could have expected. Before they know it, with the help of George's girlfriend Barbara (Franka Potente), a stewardess, they were flying large quantities of the drug to their homebase. Then in Chicago, George is busted for have possession of 660-pounds of it, and put in jail.
"A judgment call."
While there, he meets up with Diego Delgado (Jordi Molla) who teaches him pot is only for little league. Instead, once out, the two begin the largest supply of pure Colombian cocaine into the US. ("Pure as the driver's snow. Disco shit") Like the characters of "Requiem for a Dream," there is that temporary high, the grand feeling of success, that outreach for more, but similarly, it will all come crashing down.
"Blow" is another attempt, like Darren Aronofsky's "Requiem," for the characters, or here at least George Jung, to be humanized, cared about, viewed not only as a refractory drug supplier. I can hardly deem the "drug genre" to be a trendy subject to hit on, but filmmakers seem to think differently, because at least recently with the well-received ilk of "Requiem" and Steven Soderbergh's "Traffic," audiences seem to be into it. But this humanization of people, real or not, like Jung or Harry Goldfarb, Sara Goldfarb, Tyrone and Marion is an interesting debate. Is it wrongful to understand what these people were attempting to grasp --a certain material status? Is it wrongful to feel bad for Jung over the loss of his daughter, the breaking of his promise? I lean towards "yes." I do not agree with what they have done or were doing, and I may not like them as people either, but the judgment is strictly reserved not to that of their character, but to the disillusionment of their actions. These things happen all the time, and even the most devout humanitarian could hardly devote enough time and sympathy to each of these astray individuals, looking at it as an ill of society, it isn't pleasant and it is sad.
But part of the whole acceptance and humanizing comes with an obvious bias from Demme. After speaking with him during a press-day in Los Angeles, one walks away knowing that Demme likes Jung and wants to present him in the best light as possible. This is an unfair manipulation. Already, the story, the biography by Bruce Porter is being neutered, but the center and anti-hero of our movie (Demme does identify him as an anti-hero), the whole overview of Jung's actions are being skimmed over and extenuated. It causes the viewer, or at least me, to lose sight of his offences in order to "like him." But if his reasoning for involvement in the drug cartel is acceptable for the espoused reasons, then there must be so many others like him just begging for our forgiveness as well. As much as I don't mind the George Jung that Johnny Depp plays, it is a necessity for me to keep in mind that this is how they want us to see him.
As a movie, the beginning has got it down. The look of the movie is nicely cultivated, and it's got the music, the look and the wigs of the '70s. Ellen Kuras uses the process of Skip Bleaching I believe (like "Stigmata"), so mood and ambience is accounted for. The storytelling technique --using narration only to explain the minute details it doesn't want to show, doesn't have the time to show, or just to flower up the descriptions-- is a little less appropriate and a little more convenient. (Like Dirk Diggler, he happily announces, "I'm great at what I do." Or "I went in [prison] with a Bachelors in marijuana, and came out with a Doctorate in cocaine," or "We had the world by the short and curlies") "Blow" is far less compelling for its story and its advocacy for Jung, than it is for its exceptionally talented cast.
When it comes to direction, Demme is deftly talented as an ensemble director. He's been around longer than Paul Thomas Anderson, but he's already cast in his shadow, but similarly, the two directors like to use their actors to the fullest of their abilities. Unfortunately, Demme was a little preoccupied here (as opposed to "Beautiful Girls" and "Life") and didn't use as much of many of the actors as he could have, but the performances are not disappointing. Reaching for diversity, my favorite casting choice by far was Franka Potente, or known to most others as Lola from Germany's "Run Lola Run." She goes from bright red there, to a more active orange (like Vitamin C), and only on occasion is there evidence that she is not American. But Potente is gone for far too long, far too fast. Ray Liotta turns in some good work along with Ethan Suplee, Molla and Max Perlich. Everybody's It Girl, Penelope Cruz who is given second billing, is not around for long. Or more over, when she does finally show up three-quarters into the movie, it is not long before it's over. But any fuss that might have been created, isn't really necessary, as she is overdrawn, over-performed, and very shallow. Paul Reubens adds some fun to his scenes, and gets ample opportunities for that. As for Depp, we've seen him in a state and time period not too far off from this --Hunter S. Thompson in "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," and frankly, he does much better with that. In his younger days, Depp has much more control and maneuverability with him, but as time and weight progress (a fake looking prosthetic belly to boot), he becomes more of a caricature and more of a repeat.
Demme uses the actors in the best way possible. Even the lesser, or lesser-screen-timed roles are what especially make this worth seeing. But I also give credit to Demme for the scarcity of violence and sex in the movie. Language is another thing, but the way that Demme only uses it when necessary (which in his opinion was very little), the balance he creates is quite noticeable. It's appreciated. And as much as I find it a stretch for us just to abandon our regards of Jung as a criminal than just as a good person, I do hope he finds reconciliation with his daughter, Kristina.Final Verdict: B.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=4720&reviewer=172
originally posted: 04/09/01 19:06:47