| April 8, 2001

This year’s entry into the “Drugs in America” category of film is Blow, directed by Ted Demme (Life, The Ref, Monument Ave.). It shares many things with last year’s “Drugs In America” movie, Traffic, and it is many of the things that Traffic was not. And in ways it is a better film.
Traffic attempted to tell the tale of drugs in America. My feeling was–although the movie was grittily shot and showed one truth of what has been a costly and, in many people’s opinion, a losing battle in this country, the happy ending for Michael Douglas’ family was too “Hollywood Feel Good.”
Blow shows the upside of drugs and dealing: drugs make you feel good and they’re profitable for the dealers. And the impression is that drug use is as victimless crime as alcholoism, because the person chooses to deliberately ruin their life in the pursuit of what they think is a higher plane of existence.
Blow also shows the extreme downside which is part of the life and culture of drug use: The power struggle over turf and money, which in most cases leads to murder; The destruction of the family unit because one person chooses that “higher plane of existence” instead of reality. And while the addiction to the drug is not addressed, and the lives of the customers are not shown in detail, the allure of presumably easily attained mountains of cash is presented as a drug unto itself.
The title of Bruce Porter’s book, on which the movie is based, tells the real story of Blow: “Blow: How A Small-Town Boy Made $100 Million With The Medellin Cocaine Cartel And Lost It All.” It is this story that reveals the roller coaster ride that was George Jung’s life: Growing up with a loving father and schizoid mother. Being introduced to pot and then deciding that selling pot is better than working a regular job. Selling tons of pot, then getting caught and doing time. Learning about cocaine while in jail (who says you can’t learn a trade while incarcerated?). Taking the connections made and knowledge gained and turning them into a business that in the late 1970’s controlled over 70% of the cocaine that traveled through the United States.
As in the recent hit Traffic, Blow gathers a wonderful ensemble cast lead by Johnny Depp as George Jung, the kid next door who was fueled by a childhood desire never to be poor. Depp (Benny & Joon, Donnie Brasco) continues to take interesting roles and exhibits a versatility not often seen. From Sleepy Hollow to last year’s role in Chocolat to Blow, Depp is creating a strong body of work which speaks well to his abilities.
Ray Liotta plays Depp’s father, Fred, who tried to teach his son that money isn’t everything–a lesson his son does not comprehend for 30 years. If you saw Liotta in the recently released Hannibal and Heartbreakers and then see his performance in Blow, you will have a perfect understanding of why Liotta is one of the best actors around. Fred Jung’s love for his son was unconditional, and did not sever the bloodline due to a choice in occupation. Liotta’s character also suppresses a good deal of sadness, which is never expressed to his son. Ethan Suplee (the Kevin Smith triumvirate of Dogma, Chasing Amy and Clerks) and Max Perlich play Tuna and Dulli, two childhood friends involved in Jung’s exploits from the beginning and, in Dulli’s case, the end of Jung’s drug run. An excellent performance by both actors.
Paul Reubens continues to resurrect his career with quirky performances. Here he plays a high-end dealer who becomes Jung’s partner. Bobcat Goldthwait makes a wonderful cameo as a user and his line, “I can’t feel my face,” is quite memorable. Jordi Molla makes his U.S. movie debut as Diego Delgado, the drug kingpin wannabe who uses Jung’s connections to get ahead and eventually screw Jung. Molla is a superb actor and has been nominated for best actor in his native Spain three times.
The one casting decision that did not work for me was that of Penelope Cruz. Will someone explain why she was chosen? I understand that she’s kind of cute, but whenever she opens her mouth I can’t help it; I’d rather hear a Shakespearean soliloquy delivered by Rosie Perez!
There are many wonderful scenes in Blow. There is Jung’s introduction to Pablo Escobar (the godfather of international cocaine trafficking), and a most impressive scene where Jung and Delgado have so much cash they can’t find any more room in the house (“60 pounds is equal to $2.5 million!”), and Jung’s first experience with purchasing marijuana from the source. All of these scenes depict the fantastically unbelievable world in which Jung was living. Along with that, the humor of the first half of the movie takes a dark and steep descent as the stakes become higher and the “highs” more dangerous. The viewer is given a good representation of the happy, hippie 60’s as they evolved into the out of control disco and cocaine era of the 1970’s. All of which was driven by our society’s thirst for getting loaded in order to escape the mundane.
On the strength of the cast’s performance and the story by writers Nick Cassavetes and David McKenna, Blow is an early entry into my Top 10 list.

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