Saturday, September 3, 2011

Blow: The After School Special For The Gen X Drug Runners

The Good: Most acting, Relationship between father and son, Plot, Pacing, Directing
The Bad: Penelope Cruz, Last frames, Moments of tone
The Basics: A surprisingly good film about the man responsible for the U.S. drug trade in the 70's, Blow is an impressive acting exercise and character study of one man.

Sometimes two actors not only look and sound alike, but there are roles in which they also act alike. Having watched Blow, I was allowed to exercise a rather obscure fantasy of sorts: I allowed Johnny Depp to be Christopher Walken and I allowed myself to believe Ray Liotta was Jeffrey Hunter. Jeffrey Hunter, for the masses who would not know, played Captain Christopher Pike in the pilot for Star Trek. He's been dead for over thirty years; died before his time.

Blow, then is the story of drug distributor George Jung. Jung is apparently the man responsible for the influx of cocaine into the United States in the 1970s. As we watch, Fred Jung, George's father, and Ermine, George's mother, fretting about money. Ermine is the archetypal nag and Fred expresses the bulk of his love and idealism to his son. Fred leaves to the south where he ends up smuggling marijuana into the California and then Massachusetts. Arrested, Fred meets Diego, who gets him involved with smuggling cocaine. From there, it's pretty much the typical rise and fall story. Fred marries Mirtha, they have a baby, Fred makes $60 million dollars, Fred is betrayed, arrested, and loses everything.

What works is that whenever the film seems like it is about to slow down or hit a dead spot, the director changes the look, feeling, timing of the film. The moment the film hits a rough patch, often it actually stops and it changes direction. Right before Diego's wedding, for instance, it breaks into a photo montage. It works. Ted Demme impressed me with his direction. He seems to have an expert sense of timing and that is refreshing given a lot of films I've seen lately.

Even better than that is the character connection between Fred and George. Throughout the film the tether between father and son plays out well. Whenever George experiences a serious loss, a direction, his father is there. It's actually refreshing, if a bit idealistic. It serves to remind us of the concept of unconditional love. And how great is that? I think it's a nice idea and in Blow, it is executed with proficiency and grace.

Most of the acting impressed me. The actors are diverse and for the most part I was convinced. Johnny Depp and Ray Liotta are the obvious acting winners in the film. They become Fred and George and they play the relationship well. Unfortunately, Penelope Cruz didn't impress me as Mirtha. I have to say it was somewhat amusing to me that it took over an hour for the second billed star to even appear. But even the secondary characters are well acted. Paul Reubens and Ethan Suplee appear too briefly and quite well as Derek and Tuna.

I thought the last line almost blew the film. I had been impressed by the level of compassion and love Fred had for his daughter. That the last line, a graphic on the screen appeared saying how she has not visited her father in prison seemed like cheap emotional manipulation and it bothered me that the film stooped to that. Moreover, there were moments where the tone was "have sympathy for this drug dealer" and those moments seemed forced.

What worked were the moments where the idea instead was "have sympathy for this human." In fact, Fred is sympathetic for moments in the end. He is a human and this film does not minimize the fact that he experiences the full range of human emotion. He is not a flat villain, he's not some public relations attempt to make drug dealers look good or glamorous. He's a man. And sometimes, that alone is worth watching.

For other films featuring Johnny Depp, please visit my reviews of:
Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
The Tourist
Alice In Wonderland
The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street
Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End
Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Corpse Bride
Charlie And The Chocolate Factory
Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl
Dead Man
Edward Scissorhands


For other film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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