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BLOW

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Franka Potente, Rachel Griffiths, Paul Reubens, Ray Liotta
Director: Ted Demme
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: New Line Cinema
Features: See Review
Length: 124 Minutes
Release Date: September 11, 2001

“Danbury wasn’t really a prison, it was a crime school. I went in with a Bachelor's in marijuana…came out with a doctorate in cocaine.”

Film ***1/2

It’s incredibly ironic to note that some of the more fascinating films of the past twenty years have featured graphic use of drugs. The presence and threat of drugs has been illustrated in such classic films as Scarface, GoodFellas, Boogie Nights, and more recently, the contemporary masterpiece Traffic and the dark mind trip Requiem For a Dream. Director Ted Demme has crafted a dynamic true-life portrait, Blow, which chronicles the introduction of perhaps the most deadly and addictive of all illegal drugs, cocaine, and the man responsible for importing the drug into America, George Jung, who once lived the high life in California but in the end would pay a damaging price for importing what would turn out to be the biggest seller in the drug market.

George Jung is portrayed in the film by Johnny Depp in yet another brilliantly realized performance. The movie recollects George’s life right from his days as a kid growing up in a working class family in New England. George’s father (Ray Liotta) is an honest workingman and completely devoted to his family, but he never makes enough income to keep George’s material-obsessed mother (Rachel Griffiths) happy. When his dad files for bankruptcy, George tells him that he never wants to be poor, to which his dad responds with a strong piece of advice, “Money isn’t real. It doesn’t matter, it only seems like it does”, but George doesn’t take that piece of advice to heart.

Cut to the late ‘60s, where George has now moved to California to make it on his own, along with his childhood pal, Tuna (Ethan Suplee). He gets acquainted with several locals in the area, including his future girlfriend Barbara, played by Franka Potente of Run Lola Run fame, and her close friend Derek (Paul Reubens), who both help George start a profitable business by selling pot, which goes from being a local business to a nationwide business. As one of George’s friends from back home points out, the real money is at college campuses across the country with rich kids who have nothing but their parents money to spend, and willing to pay top dollar for it. Soon, George is riding high with his profits, which is up to nearly $15,000 a week, and loving it, until he is eventually busted and sent to prison.

It is in there where George doesn’t exactly do time, but actually learns of another way to earn a fortune. His Columbian cellmate, Diego (Jordi Molla), suggests that he switches from selling pot to selling cocaine. When released from jail, George meets up with Diego, and the two go in as partners, and the drug turns out to be a quick seller. George brings Derek back in, and the two make even more money than they first made by getting rid of the coke in 36 hours straight. It isn’t too long before Diego introduces George to the notorious South American drug lord Pablo Escobar (Cliff Curtis), who employs the two under his wing, and let’s just say that the income for these guys is the kind of money I would like to find myself counting. One amazing scene has George and Diego counting their profits, adding to around $3,000,000, and George can’t seem to find enough room on his boat to stack place all the money.

George soon finds himself in love once again, this time by a Mexican beauty named Mirtha (Penelope Cruz), who he steals from her fiancée to make her his own wife, making George this time around untouchable as anything. Soon George helps bring a child into the world, and as much as he wants to be a devoted father just like his father was to him, George’s obsession with money and material possessions, as well as his addiction to coke combine to make George take a mighty hard fall from the top. His desire for wanting to be on top leads him to betray, or be betrayed by just about everyone he has known in his life.

The movie is filled left to right with some remarkable performances, especially Depp’s dynamic work here as the well intentioned, but deeply complicated George. Depp has long been an extremely versatile actor, and Blow illustrates that completely. It’s perhaps the actor’s finest hour on film, ranking with his work in Donnie Brasco and Sleepy Hollow, and I really hope he is remembered at Oscar time next year, but since this came out early this year, it is likely that he won’t be remembered. The movie also features a strong supporting cast, and the standout in that field is Ray Liotta’s touching portrayal as George’s father, who admires George for going for everything he got, but wishes he earned it in a different way. This is easily Liotta’s best work since his breakout work in GoodFellas, released 11 years ago.

Ted Demme, who is the nephew of Jonathan Demme, is a director I have long admired, and not simply for the movies he’s directed. Nearly 10 years ago, Demme was responsible for discovering brilliant comedian Denis Leary, who coincidently is on the producers of Blow, and Demme has since then directed two of Leary’s stand-up specials, and has collaborated with him on numerous projects, including the knockout comedy The Ref and the poignant crime thriller Monument Ave. Demme has made only a few movies, but has not made a single bad one. Among his other movies, there is the star-filled romantic comedy Beautiful Girls, and the uproariously funny prison comedy Life with Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence. With Blow, Demme has proven himself as a true filmmaker, creating a film that is intense, dramatic, funny, and emotionally gripping all at the same time. After experiencing this brilliant film, I can’t wait for the director’s next movie.

Blow is a powerful motion picture experience, and is one of this year’s greatest films.

Video ****

With its long list of amazing looking discs, I am officially labeling New Line as the one DVD studio that is incapable of making a bad disc. The presentation of Blow is no exception, as this boasts a transfer complete with amazing coloring, and absorbing, detailing images. When I say amazing coloring, I really mean it! The colors have never looked more vibrant and alive on a single disc. Watching this movie on DVD is very reminiscent of the wonderful presentation of New Line’s Boogie Nights disc, which of course was another film set in the 70s, where the picture quality and coloring were both amazingly done as well. Without a doubt another fabulous addition to New Line’s ever growing list of great discs.

Audio ****

Simply magnificent! The 5.1 presentation for Blow offers dynamic quality mainly in the same way that the Boogie Nights disc offered it, which is through the music of the movie, which was put to grand superior use on that disc and is now done to the disc for Blow. Two key scenes stand out, one which includes the song “Black Betty” by Ram Jam, and another that has the 70s classic “Blinded by the Light” played over a photograph montage of George’s success with the cocaine business, which both come to life in this presentation with music coming from just about every speaker position. The rest of the movie sounds terrific as well, with dialogue coming through as clear as can be.

Features ****

The New Line infinifilm phenomenon has struck once again. In my review for the last infinifilm release, 15 Minutes, I stated that I could not wait for the next release in this dynamic DVD series. New Line has officially taken DVD viewing to the next level with this long list of explosive extras:

First off is a series of interviews with the real George Jung, constructed by Ted Demme. George gives his thoughts on everything from the script process to the accuracy of the film and Johnny Depp’s performance. There are also two hard-hitting documentaries which focus on both the drugs and the time period, one called “Lost Paradise: Cocaine’s Impact on Columbia” chronicles how the drug’s horrid reputation has reflected on the country itself. The other documentary, titled “Addiction: Body and Soul” gives a much illustrated look at how cocaine effects the mind and nervous system. Hopefully, this feature alone will prevent anyone from trying cocaine.

Also included is a feature length commentary by Ted Demme and George Jung, Deleted Scenes with optional commentary, Character Outtakes, Ted Demme’s Video Production Diary, a music video for Nikka Costa’s song “Push and Pull”, and two trailers for the movie.

Once again, impressive as always, and one of the best-packed discs of this year.

Summary:

Blow is as unique of a character study as you will find in recent movies. It’s a terrific companion piece to a movie like Scarface, chronicling the rise and fall of a man who operated in an illegal manner, and paid an enormous price for it. A triumph for all involved, and a movie that shouldn’t be missed.

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