Not the Real Thing

By Raven, Charlotte | New Statesman (1996), June 4, 2001 | Go to article overview

Not the Real Thing


Raven, Charlotte, New Statesman (1996)


CHARLOTTE RAVEN finds few highs in a tale of the cocaine trade

The best cocaine scene I have ever seen in a film was the bit in Pulp Fiction where Uma Thurman takes it on her date in Jack Rabbit Slims. Excusing herself from the table where she and John Travolta are having a slightly stilted conversation, she goes to the bathroom to "powder my nose". The brilliant thing about what follows (apart from her expression in the mirror, which looks as if it has been fizzed in a Soda Stream) is the absence of any hyperbole in Quentin Tarantino's treatment of the drug's effect. Thurman doesn't take off her clothes, scream "Arrriba!" or start swinging from the light fittings. She just goes back to where she and Travolta were sitting, and starts talking, a little more earnestly than before, with a slightly misplaced animation -- and that's it until she decides, with a seriousness of purpose recognisable to anyone who has ever taken this drug. that she wants to enter the dancing competition: "I want to win that trophy." The famous sequence that follows is a near-perfect portrayal of that sublime combination of humourlessness and physical abandon that is unique to the cocaine experience.

It is strange that Blow, a film about cocaine, should have no such convincing moments. The drug is consumed in bucket-loads, but no one ever looks like they've taken it until they have had so much that they are a paranoid, gibbering wreck. There is no sense of degeneration. nor any real idea of how the interlude between being straight and needing urgent medical assistance might have felt for either the dealers or the consumers in the great US cocaine boom of the 1970s. Without this, the people risking their lives to get the stuff out of Colombia and into the hands of eager partygoers seem like they might just as well be dealing in sugar or iron ore. We know that what they are doing is illegal, but the movie kowtows to its hero's idea that he is just another entrepreneur. This makes the film's eventual insistence that the signifiers of George Jung's success -- the fast cars and fabulous girls-were irrelevant, compared with the spiritual cost of securing them, seem irritatingly hypocritical. If you are going to rely on styling, rather than characterisation, to carry your movie, you should not be surprised if people can't relate to the rush of late-onset ethics that tries, and fails, to retract all that went before. When Jung (played by Johnny Depp) gets busted the final time and is sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison, we see this as bad luck. …

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