Mark Reviews Movies

BLOW

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Ted Demme

Cast: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Franka Potente, Paul Reubens, Ray Liotta

MPAA Rating: R (for pervasive drug content and language, some violence and sexuality)

Running Time: 1:59

Release Date: 4/6/01


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Review by Mark Dujsik

Blow is the kind of movie you wish the filmmakers had taken a little more time editing. All the elements of a great film are there, but there’s something missing that keeps it from greatness. In this case, it’s a lack of focus. There is a lot of material fit into just over two hours, so important and effective scenes are cut short to provide the scenes that keep the action moving. The story here is intriguing, but there is something hinted at in between the plot that really struck me.

George Yung (Johnny Depp) was the first man to smuggle cocaine into the US in large enough amounts to start a trend. He came from a poor family and was taught by his father (Ray Liotta, in his third movie in as many months) that money is not important in life. His mother (Rachel Griffiths), however, doesn’t hold the same opinion, and George seems to side more with her on this issue. He leaves home to go to California where he discovers the small pleasures in life, particularly marijuana. In the beginning of a string of ambitious moves, George starts selling small time. He receives the pot from a hairdresser named Derek Foreal (Paul Reubens, for real) but sees a bigger opportunity in Mexico.

It all escalates until he ends up in jail, loses his fiancé to cancer, and meets his future partner in crime. Once George is released from jail, he moves onto cocaine which he receives from Pablo Escobar (Cliff Curtis), the biggest drug czar in the world at the time. His personal life starts improving slightly when he meets a beautiful Colombian woman (Penelope Cruz) and ends up marrying her. Of course, it will all eventually go downhill, and the price will be more than money.

This is not new material, and it’s been done much better before. However, director Ted Demme shows a very strong visual style which was never displayed in his previous efforts. He commands each scene, and even makes the old material seem fresh. The screenplay was co-written by David McKenna (American History X) and Nick Cassavetes (son of John) and gives a very detailed portrait of Jung, which is both a good thing and a bad thing.

Depp is an oft-overlooked actor, and here he is used to the best of his abilities. It’s a subtle, complex performance which will probably end up being one of the year’s best. There are many other great performances and characters, such as Liotta’s father and Griffith’s mother, but for every great character there are at least two one-dimensional ones. Cruz’s wife basically has two characteristics: sexy and bitchy. Reuben’s Foreal is essentially a stereotype, although he does hint at something a little deeper.

Even still, the great performances here provide some great scenes. The scenes between Depp and Liotta are particularly striking. I would have loved an entire movie revolving around the two. And this is where the movie falls short. George says that life is what happens while you’re busy making plans, and those scenes of his life become the most important aspect of the film. We only get into details later when it becomes necessary, but I think it could have been explored more throughout.

The film also misses the opportunity to delve into the results of drugs on the people who take them. George’s wife uses cocaine, drinks, and smokes while she is pregnant, but apparently there is no effect whatsoever on their child. Considering this man deals in possibly ruining people’s lives, he doesn’t seem too concerned, even when it affects his own family. That seems a little odd.

Blow has the misfortune of being released so soon after Traffic. Traffic is the superior film, but there is still a lot to appreciate in Blow. It certainly does not explore the drug situation as effectively, and it also misses many opportunities of exploring deep personal relationships, but it still struck a few right notes with me. I just wonder what a really good editor and another look at the script could have done to it.

Copyright © 2001 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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