Film Review: Blow
Steven Soderbergh's latest and, possibly, greatest?
Johnny Depp in the lead role is not a bad thing. He can always be trusted to seek out unusual projects (Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas) and his involvement is a coup for movies vying for left-of-centre credibility. If nothing else, Ted Demme's "Blow" is certainly this. In it Depp plays the real-life George Jung who became one of America's chief drugs importers.
Depp has spent his career fleeing his own face. Throughout "Blow" he hides behind over-the-top costumes, hairstyles and belly extensions. The film showcases some bright, brash and downright hideous fashion faux pas spanning the candy-coloured sixties, dandy seventies and tracksuited eighties. It is all style, sporting a few nifty camera angles, a different "look" for every decade and a thumping soundtrack. Pity about the story.
"Blow" is adapted from a book by Bruce Porter in which Jung, with equal parts bias, regret, and rose-tinted glasses, recounts his life-story. As a child in Massachusetts, George notes his adoring and extraordinarily permissive father's (Ray Liotta) financial ineptitude. A mother (Rachel Griffiths) with a tendency to do a runner every time the funds run low galvanises her son's obsession with money. This is all the film ever really tells us about George. He loves money.
A fearless opportunist, grown-up George arrives in Los Angeles in the late sixties. Accompanied by his fat friend, Tuna (Ethan Suplee), he meets gay hairdresser Derek Foreal (Paul Reubens) who supplies the pair with big bags of marijuana to sell on sunny Manhattan Beach. If fat people doing ordinary things in films make you laugh simply because they are fat and gay men in films make you laugh because they are camp, then you will like this carefree and really very tired portion of "Blow". Enjoy it while it lasts because, once the cocaine kicks in and the sepia tones fade, it all gets a bit sweaty and paranoid.
With his innate business savvy, "Boston George" plays out his take on America's "self-made man" and swiftly whips the operation into shape. He organises a distribution network that takes in Eastern Colleges where demand is high and supply low. Things go a tad awry in 1972, however, when the now rich George is arrested, ending up in Danbury Prison. Here he meets the intensely blue-eyed Colombian Diego (Jordi Molla) and states "I went in with a Bachelor's of Marijuana and came out with a doctorate in cocaine."
Suddenly George has a new hairstyle, he's importing cocaine for Pablo Escobar and his life is all about fantastic excess. He banks $30 million in Panama, snorts himself into a manic stupor, feels generally untouchable and, to prove it, nicks Mirtha (Peneople Cruz), the young and insatiable wife of a shady player in the Colombian cartel.
"Blow" is one of those "drug epics" that are fast becoming a fairly predictable genre. Even if you've managed to successfully side step all the hype and arrive at the cinema prepared for anything, you might well be warned to expect the expected. Nobody will ever make a film about a drug-trafficker who retires young and enjoys a happy life thereafter. As the old saying goes, what goes up must come down. And, it might be added, must also hit middle age with a nasty bump, a truckload of regrets, fashion amnesia and a face like a corpse. The makeup in this film is not understated. Those vulnerable to Western society's damning verdict on ageing won't be too comforted by Depp's dried-up and bleached-out impression of Jung's forties.
In any case, "Blow" is all about Johnny. You learn and care even less about the supporting characters than you do about George Jung. If you like Depp, the film is palatable. If you don't, don't bother. And if, like me, you can't decide whether or not he's actually a good actor, there's always that magnificent bone-structure to keep you going.