A Kinder, Gentler Dope Fiend

In Ted Demme's Blow, Johnny Depp summons an American snowstorm

While we're on that subject, Blow really does make a strong statement about the revolutionary effects George Jung had upon the America of the Seventies and Eighties, and once he hooks up with Colombian hustler Diego Delgado (Jordi Molla), it's all downhill or uphill from there, depending on your perspective. After George lands 50 kilos of the pure white powder and becomes the doorway to the California elite, all Heaven and Hell break loose, including frightening encounters with villain/humanitarian Pablo Escobar (the incredibly flexible Cliff Curtis). As he changes the way America got high, George likewise gets high with a saucy Colombian brat named Mirtha (Penelope Cruz, mirthless and merciless), who ends up as his wife and the bane of his existence.

And here's where it all clicks, where George's epic and miserable trajectory resonates with truth: He simply forgets that a girl who likes to be slapped around in a dog collar and snorts the white stuff like a wild sow is probably not ideal matrimony material. It may be too ham-fisted for the tastes of some, but the script posits that George's problem isn't really about drugs or illegal business but with embracing a gentle femininity. He's drawn to Mirtha because she's hot but also because she's utterly rotten to him ... kinda like Mom.

It's unfortunate timing for Rachel Griffiths -- what with next year's Oscars a year away and all -- but in Blow she already has turned in an undeniable bid for Best Supporting Actress. Curt and demanding yet clearly at odds with some soul-severing inner conflict, Ermine is -- like her name -- all about a deceptively soft exterior concealing the heart of a weasel. When one reflects upon her impact on George, combined with that of Mirtha, the portrait gains a load of depth. And if anyone needs further convincing about Griffiths's performance, consider that she's actually younger than Depp.

Run, Johnny, run. Drug dealing is no fun.
L. Sebastian
Run, Johnny, run. Drug dealing is no fun.

Details

Based on the book by Bruce Porter. Opening at selected theaters.

Coproduced with typically reactionary zeal by Denis Leary, Blow wants to get in your face and tell you the real story, man, but luckily the unassuming tone nips any overheated exposé triteness in the bud. The only area where it really drags is when it becomes almost ruthlessly poignant, basically whenever George and Mirtha's daughter Kristina (Emma Roberts young, James King grown up) appears onscreen to symbolize good values and hope and stuff like that. That aside, there's never a dull moment in Blow, but cinematically speaking there's never a mesmerizing one, either; it's basically your above-average nice drug movie. Its dizzy head may be in the clouds, but at least its heart is in the right place.

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