122 minutes | Rated: R
Opened: Friday, April 6, 2001
Directed by Ted Demme
Starring Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Jordi Molla, Franka Potente, Ray Liotta, Rachel Griffiths, Ethan Suplee, Paul Reubens, Max Perlich, Cliff Curtis
SMALL SCREEN SHRINKAGE: 20%|
There's a lot of subtlety to the performances in this film. A lot of emotions expressed with small facial expressions that could get lost on a small screen. Give the picture your undivided attention, especially if your TV is 20" or smaller.
VIDEO RELEASE: 09.11.2001
Demme's commentary is everything such tracks should be. He talks about how he works as a director, tells stories about actors and performances, provides tons of technical and behind the scenes info -- it's just like having him on the couch next to you while you watch the movie. (Although it's clearly from more than one taping, it's edited together very well.) Jung's part of commentary is dubbed in from interviews, but it's good stuff. Fills in some incredible details, adds insights into other characters, fond remembrances and serious regrets. It's a pity Demme doesn't point out Jung's daughter, who appears in the film but I don't know where.
Extras include New Line's great InfiniFilm features like FastTrack subtitles of trivial related data and pop-ups that allow you to pause and view snippets of supplemental material. One thing this DVD really should have and doesn't is some "where are they now" info.
2.35:1 ratio; Dolby 5.1, 2.0
OTHER NOTABLE BONUS MATERIAL
Deleted scenes are particularly interesting w/ commentary. Outtakes of Demme's prison interviews w/Jung. 25m documentary about cocaine and Columbia & 6m documentary about addiction. (Both feel slapped on just for the sake of filling the disc.) DVD-ROM features (web site, script) don't work on Mac.
DVD RATING: ***1/2
Depp awesome in 'Blow,' an epic, high-energy coke-trafficking bio that owes a lot to Scorsese
Ted Demme gives more than a tip of the hat to Martin Scorsese in "Blow," a high-octane rise-and-fall epic biography about George Jung, a small-time Boston dope dealer with an illicit entrepreneurial spirit who became the conduit through which the Medellin cartel built and monopolized the American cocaine trade in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Borrowing the narrative structure and the contagious kinetic energy of Scorsese's "Goodfellas," Demme creates a dizzyingly seductive criminal whirlpool of money and drugs that sucks the audience in right along with Jung, who is played with cool but insatiable zeal by Johnny Depp in another of his engrossingly chameleonic performance.
Narrated in flashback by a bloated, haggard, post-fall, post-conviction Jung (the real man is behind bars until at least 2014), "Blow" begins with a remembrance of a 1950s childhood watching his father work 14-hour days with little to show for it. But Jung's quick ascent from nobody to cocaine baron begins in earnest in 1968, when he and a buddy move from Boston to Manhattan Beach, Calif. Before they're even unpacked, Jung comes home one day holding a small bag of marijuana and saying, "You know how we were wondering what we were gonna do for money and all since we don't want jobs?"
With the help of a well-connected hairdresser friend (Paul Reubens in a great performance), Jung quickly becomes "Boston George," the biggest dealer in town. Soon he's gone bi-coastal, after being reminded there are thousands of rich kids with drugs on the mind and money to burn at Boston area colleges. He uses his stewardess girlfriend Barbara ("Run Lola Run's" Franka Potente) to smuggle the drugs back home for another friend to peddle, and before long they find themselves with a supply and demand problem.
Looking for a dope source that can handle his kind of volume, Jung starts shopping internationally in 1969, walking around a Mexican border town asking strangers "Como weed?" By 1970 he has a villa in Acapulco -- and the first bust on his record.
Astutely aware of the metabolism of his movie, Demme knows exactly when take a breather, slowing the cocaine-fueled pace from time to time in order to visit George Jung's soul. Bailed out of jail by Barbara after popping off at the judge ("I don't think what I did was a crime. I crossed an imaginary line with a bunch of plants, babe."), Jung has to live with his parents again, who are angry and disapproving, but not enough so to cut him out of their lives. The conversations he has with his father are some of the most human moments in the film.
At times in the voice-over, Depp seems to be almost channeling Ray Liotta from "Goodfellas," but with a Baw-stun accent. ("It was the best time of our lives. We didn't work hard, we did play hard, didn't have a care. It was perfect.") So clearly it's not coincidental that Demme cast Liotta to play Jung's father.
In his third strong performance in two months ("Hannibal" and "Heartbreakers" being the others), Liotta embodies the conflict of unconditional love for his son and a repulsion for the life he's chosen. Even more impressive is the awesome Rachel Griffiths ("Me Myself I," "Hilary and Jackie"), playing Jung's heartbroken, embarrassed, distraught and angry mother -- who squeals on her son for jumping bail when his life is turned upside down by Barbara dying of cancer. (Griffiths is five years Depp's junior, but the age makeup is really top-notch.)
Finally sent to prison, Jung impresses a jailed associate of feared cartel kingpin Pablo Escobar with his smuggling savvy, and when he gets out in 1976, Jung breaks parole and goes to Columbia.
With all the detail of how Jung came to dominate the American cocaine trade still to come, the fact that the film can pack all this information into the first half of the film without it bursting at the seams is a credit to Demme's skill behind the camera. While scene-by-scene "Blow" isn't all that creative (example: in stock Hollywood fashion, Jung meets his wife by spotting her across the room at a party), it is artfully executed by Demme with a flair for inviting and illustrative visuals, crisp and imaginative editing, and making the viewer feel like an insider in this invigorating but dangerous world.
(How dangerous? When hiring a pilot for cocaine runs, Jung's Medellin go-between tells the man, "We need pictures of your children and the names of their schools" to ensure loyalty.)
The wife I mentioned -- a Colombian beauty wooed away from an Escobar lieutenant -- is played by the spectacularly sexy Penelope Cruz, who becomes an emaciated addict as Jung's life begins to spiral out of control, not long after an apex scene in which every room in Jung's house is lined with thousands of shoeboxes full of cash and coke.
His long-time retail and wholesale associates both turn on Jung, cutting him out of the equation. The Panamanian government seizes his secret bank account. His wife leaves with their daughter. He becomes an addict himself (an incredible five grams a day). And the DEA has a long memory. (The movie's most powerful shot is of a handcuffed Jung watching his young daughter being carried away by feds.)
There's a lot to praise about "Blow," from its smart script (by David McKenna and Nick Cassavetes and adapted from Bruce Porter's biography) to its ever-so-slightly fanciful '70s and '80s costumes to its uniformly great cast and its vivid vitality.
But the movie wouldn't be half as memorable without Depp's fully immersed performance as George Jung. Like Russell Crowe in "The Insider," Jim Carrey in "Man On the Moon" or Edward Norton in "American History X," he's hardly recognizable in the part. His mannerisms, his behavior, even his dialogue are driven entirely by the character -- although you do have to forgive a series of conspicuously unconvincing wigs.
I was about to say that Depp just keeps getting better and better with every film. But from Edward Scissorhands to Ed Wood to Donnie Brasco to Hunter Thompson, he's always had a gift for disappearing inside of the personality he's playing -- especially when he's playing a real person. Oh, I'll say it anyway: "Blow" is arguably his best performance yet.