April 7, 2001 -- The problem of drugs in the U.S. has been tackled in three ambitious, well-acted movies in recent months, "Requiem for a Dream," "Traffic," and now, "Blow." The first was a great film, the second, nearly great and the last one, a good film, but the only one of the three based on a true story. All of them tackle the drug problem from different perspectives.
"Blow" (a street name for cocaine) looks at the drug business from one man's perspective. The film follows the life of major league drug dealer George Jung (played by Johnny Depp of "Chocolat"). Jung starts out as a small time marijuana dealer, working with some of his college buddies. His small circle of friends include airline stewardess Barbara (Franka Potente, star of "Run Lola Run"), his supplier, Derek Foreal (Paul Reubens of "Mystery Men"), Kevin Dulli, friend from college who becomes a pilot for Jung's operation (played by Max Perlich) and Tuna (Ethan Suplee).
Jung works his way up to a large pot delivery operation and then is busted. In prison, he makes a connection with Diego (Jordi Mollà), a man with ties to the Medellin cartel of Columbia. Upon his release from prison, the two immediately go into the cocaine business. They get in on the ground floor of the exploding drug trade. They make money faster than they can count it. Through his connections with Medellin Cartel head Pablo Escobar (Cliff Curtis of "The Insider"), he meets the beautiful Mirtha (Penélope Cruz of "All the Pretty Horses"). They marry and have a daughter. It seems that Jung is on top of the world. He's making millions.
But all those millions turn old friends against each other. Addiction to cocaine doesn't make for a happy family life, either. The story is full of reversals of fortune. At every point when Jung seems to be ready to make a clean break from his former life and become a decent man, something happens to spoil his plans. Usually, this is in the form of a DEA raid. Jung is portrayed very sympathetically in the story, maybe to a fault. The film almost makes it look like Jung's troubles are everyone else's fault, that he was the victim of a lot of bad breaks and not a few betrayals. I find it impossible to believe that Jung was really that much of a victim in all of this, but that's the way it is made to look in the film.
Depp is excellent, as usual, in the role. Ray Liotta is solid as Jung's father, Fred, and Rachel Griffiths of "Hilary and Jackie") is very good as Jung's mother, Ermine. Jordi Mollà, making his American film debut, is a standout as Jung's ambitious drug-dealing partner. Cruz does a fine job as Jung's strung-out, faithless, money-grubbing wife. The former Pee Wee, Reubens, shows some dramatic range as the clever drug dealer, Foreal. The cinematography by Ellen Kuras is good, including an interesting rollover shot and a series of fade-in shots. The story is taken from the book of the same name by Bruce Porter. Screenwriters are David McKenna ("American History X") and Nick Cassavetes (an actor, with Depp, in "The Astronaut's Wife"). Commedian Denis Leary ("The Job") is one of the film's producers. Director Ted Demme worked with Leary on the film "The Ref." Demme does a good job making the story compelling, despite having to nail together story segments which take place over a span of many years. This film rates a B.
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