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Review: Catherine Zeta-Jones is a bold choice for 'Cocaine Godmother'

Posted Tuesday, May 15, 2018 at 2:51 PM Central
Last updated Tuesday, May 15, 2018 at 2:52 PM Central

by John Couture

When you think of Welsh beauty Catherine Zeta-Jones, probably the last thing that comes to mind is a Colombian drug dealer allegedly responsible for over 200 deaths, but that's not the case for Lifetime. The popular cable TV channel turned to the incredibly talented Zeta-Jones to portray Griselda Blanco, best known as the Cocaine Godmother, in a made-for-TV movie.

The Welsh aren't particularly known for their ability to tan, so you can start to see some of the issues that arise when Catherine Zeta-Jones is tasked to play someone who grew up basically straddling the equator. But, I will give her credit, Catherine Zeta-Jones does the best that she can with the deck stacked against her and the fact that this film isn't a complete abomination almost solely lies on her shoulders.

Interestingly, the actress has sort of been in hibernation this last decade or so, having only taken a handful of roles in the past ten years and only one since 2013's Red 2. For an actress that won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 2002's Chicago, this sort of hiatus is a bit puzzling. What's even more puzzling is her choice to make Cocaine Godmother the film that would announce her return to acting.

As alluded to earlier Cocaine Godmother tells the true story of Griselda Blanco, who emigrated from Columbia to the United States illegally. Once here, she easily acclimated to the drug scene in New York before moving to Miami where her cocaine business really took off.

As you can see, while Catherine Zeta-Jones is game, her Columbian accent never really gets there and it ends more comical than anything else. Also, given the constraints of the true story narrative, Lifetime opted not to punch up the story much that would give her more to work with. The result is a stunted performance that often is betrayed by subpar script work.

And yet, Catherine Zeta-Jones is stunning and you can understand why Lifetime would cast her to carry a film about such a charismatic person. Unfortunately, I think they would have had more success overall had they simply gone with a more ethnically appropriate actress in the role.

The other major complication to the film is that Griselda's life is probably best described as Goodfellas meets The Godfather. In other words, her life was well on the R-rated side of things, so there's a lot lost in translation when you are trying to make a sanitized safe-for-TV version of her life. While Lifetime probably allowed much more violence in Cocaine Godmother than one would normally find in one of their movies, it is a shame that an edgier channel such as HBO or Showtime didn't make it.

Even Starz, which makes the popular TV Series Narcos upon which this film will undoubtedly be compared to, would have better equipped to make this type of film than Lifetime. Even the romantic parts of Griselda's life, which, to be fair, were complicated for the openly bisexual woman were glossed over in Cocaine Godmother. You would think that this would be an area that Lifetime would flourish, but sadly it only undercuts an already mediocre product.

At the end of the day, Cocaine Godmother is a made-for-TV film that shows all of the blemishes that this format is known for. When you add in the rather egregious decision to cast a very white actress in a Latina role, you end up with the messy result that is Cocaine Godmother. The decision to cast Catherine Zeta-Jones was a bold one for sure, but ultimately I think it hurts the film more than helps it when all things are considered.

Cocaine Godmother is now available on DVD.