Director: Ted Demme
Starring: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Ray Liotta, Jordi Mollà
‘Blow’ is a great film. ‘Blow’ is a good film. ‘Blow’ is ok. Retrospective writing is a challenge, unless the film transcends time which is the signifier of a truly great film. If a film does achieve such a status, it has usually been written about a lot, and ‘Blow’ hasn’t had many column inches since its release in 2001. Therein lies the issue; what makes this film great, good and also just ok?
Following the true story of George Jung (Johnny Depp) – a young New Englander who quickly realises a timecard career is not for him. We soon find ourselves Cali cohabiting along with Jung and his faithful buddy Tuna (Ethan Suplee) peddling weed on the beach, making a tidy profit and keeping a somewhat low profile. Jung is brought back to reality when he is caught organising a bumper deal in Chicago and tries desperately to avoid inevitable jail time. During his incarceration, we meet Diego Delgado (Jordi Molla), a firecracker with ties to the coca regions, who convinces George that weed has a limited scope and that he needs to think outside the bag. Jung gradually becomes a narcotics figurehead, but with this status comes dangerous friends and enemies. He has it all, the wife (Penelope Cruz), a daughter and a shit tonne of money, but it can’t last.
As previously mentioned, this film is great; Depp seems to have this great ability to absolve his previous credits and become someone entirely different, and as this is a tale of one person’s life, we immediately empathise with the main protagonist. Even his bunch of merry-men stoners are likeable, although we never do see how Tuna and the gang turn out. Perhaps this is why the film is great, because the likeability clouds your judgement, and the glossiness of the picture washes over you. After the second viewing, this film is only good. Director Ted Demme offers us handy scenes which make the good guys good, and the bad guys bad, but you can’t help but notice the convenience of it all this time around. The first viewing of this and you buy in to the groovy culture, where selling drugs was sticking it to the man, man. In reality, George would never have been busted at a party for a relatively small amount of cocaine, when he had the names and numbers of high ranking Cartel members – something more sinister was going on that coincidentally didn’t help the plot develop.
The film however is still good, the editing is sharp, a nice kaleidoscope montage differentiates time periods, and the set and costume designs are on point. There’s no doubting the acting talent involved either. Ray Liotta is sombre and thoughtful as Jung’s father, the only man that Jung respects. And his mother, played by Rachel Griffiths, is the ‘square’ voice of reason, but acted in such a way that we ignore valuable warning signs. There is genuine entertainment in the picture; Depp’s monologue of how to get past customs carrying two suitcases of cocaine, or Cruz’s frantic cocaine binge before entertaining the in laws. All good fun.
On third viewing however, the film becomes stale. Not a great deal really happens before Jung is thrust into a luxury apartment with fist full of money, and then he’s settled down, but then it all goes wrong. The film is all ‘we were selling this much to this guy’, but it would be great to see some proof. I can only recall one, singular drug deal actually going down, poor showing for a druglord biopic. This film is ok. Feel free to watch ‘Blow’ more than once, I’m just saying with every viewing, treat it with more fiction and less ‘based on’.
In the end, as a piece of entertainment, the film doesn’t offer too much. We root for George, because he’s portrayed as the laidback, free lovin’ drug lord, but after initial success he gets screwed and we get screwed. The film is great because first time round, you want to be George and buy into his flower power, middle finger to the powers that be. The film is good because the second time round, you accept it as fiction and don’t feel so bad that George gets screwed. The film is ok because the third time, you realise that no one actually wins, apart from maybe the police, and mother Jung’s bragging rights? It’s still shot well though.