New Line // 2001 // 123 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // October 13th, 2008
Based on a true story.
"Life passes most people by while they're making grand plans for it."
George Jung (Johnny Depp, From Hell) grew up as a member of an ordinary family. His father (Ray Liotta, Goodfellas) was a successful businessman who always managed to provide for the family. George loved his father, but he didn't want to be anything like his dad. In fact, he wanted to get as far away from home as quickly as possible. So, George packed his bags and traveled to California with a couple of buddies. They weren't making any money there, but they loved the wild party scene. One day, George and his pals made a simple discovery: they could make some easy cash selling marijuana. At first they sell a little bit, and when that goes well, they determine to sell a lot. Things escalate quickly over the next couple of decades, and before long George Jung would be known as one of the most notorious drug dealers of the 1970s and 1980s. Blow tells the story of the rise and fall of Mr. Jung, complete with all the good, bad, and ugly details.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present you with the official, brand-new, copper-toned George Jung Meter-O-Criminal-Success! Let's take a look at the history of things, and then see where the scales currently stand.
Mid-1960s: George Jung starts using drugs. Current score: 0 points.
Late 1960s: George Jung decides to start selling weed and make a little bit of money. Current score: 5 points.
Late 1960s/Early 1970s: George Jung decides to start selling weed on a massive scale and make a lot of money. Current score: 25 points
1974: George Jung is arrested for selling drugs and is sent to prison. Busted! Current score: 0 points.
Late 1970s: George Jung is released from prison, decides to enter the world of selling cocaine, and makes over 100 million dollars. Current score: 1000 points.
1987: George Jung is arrested again. Busted! Current score: 0 points.
1987: George Jung skips bail and gets back into the game on a somewhat smaller scale. He is arrested shortly after, but gets out of jail time by testifying against his pals. Current score: 30 points.
1994: George Jung is arrested and sent back to jail. His wife and daughter have left him. He will not be released until 2014, when he will be 72 years old. Current score: (-100) points.
This sort of story is a very familiar one. It has been a popular part of cinema for quite some time, going all the way back to the gangster films of the 1930s. A guy decides to jump into a life of crime, things go really well for a while, the guy makes a ton of money, things turn sour, and the guys loses his freedom, his family, his money, and sometimes his life. Blow plays that familiar blues tune once again, but it's really not quite as engaging this time around as it has been when performed by the masters. Brian De Palma's Scarface made this sort of thing enthralling by raising it to the level of high-stakes opera. Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas used memorable characters, breathless energy, a killer soundtrack, and remarkably convincing period settings to sell a similar tale. Blow just doesn't have anything new to bring to the party.
At worst, the film is bland and dull. At best, it borrows from other films, particularly Goodfellas. The soundtrack certainly has a Scorsese vibe (it even has a Rolling Stones selection kicking things off), but it doesn't seem to have a unique personality that sets this film apart. The movie also seems to borrow that snappy Goodfellas editing style, the happy marriage that quickly becomes bitter, and the fun entertainment in the first half that turns to ugly consequences in the second half. Blow has a running time of only 123 minutes, but it feels twice as long as that. It covers so much ground in such a routine and predictable manner; and I sincerely doubt that anyone who considers themselves a movie buff will be surprised or deeply engaged by the majority of the film.
The film was directed by the late Ted Demme, who died less than a year after Blow was released. It was revealed that Demme had cocaine in his system, which contributed to the heart attack that killed the 38-year old director. It's such a sad old story. At this point, everyone knows the dangers of serious drugs, and everyone knows the kind of sadness and heartbreak that such addictions bring. That doesn't seem to change a thing. It doesn't even seem to change the way we view a film like Blow. There are ominous warnings and depressing scenes that appear during the third act of the film, but the movie is widely regarded as a hot success story. Critic Peter Travers is quoted on the case, and he claims that, "Blow scorches the screen with a badass bravado all its own. Smart, sexy, funny, and dangerous." Indeed, most fans of Scarface do not view that film as a tragedy, but as a tribute to a great man who got absolutely everything this world could offer before going out in a blaze of glory. The allure of success, money, fame, and sex is too powerful. We quickly push aside the messages and warnings, letting only the promise of luxury linger in our minds. One gets the sense that these feelings even affected Demme and his crew. The early scenes of success are filmed with a lot of joy and personality, but by the second hour, everyone seems to be bored, monotonously going through the obligatory scenes of failure.
The hi-def transfer is mostly solid, with small slip-ups along the way. A few shots feature scratches and grain, and a couple of nighttime scenes aren't particularly strong. That's unusual, considering that most of the time blacks are quite deep and detail is pretty strong. Sound is pretty solid, with a constant stream of familiar and energetic songs piping through the soundtrack. Though this is a drug movie, you may be surprised to know that the violence is actually pretty minimal, so there are no noisy shootouts or anything terribly aggressive that will shake your sound system.
The disc is loaded down with a ton of extras. First up is a commentary with Ted Demme, with comments from George Jung tossed in from time to time. It's a decent track, but Demme struggles to keep things engaging for the full duration of the film. A hi-def exclusive called "Focus Points" lets you click a little icon at certain points in the film to view pieces of featurettes or interviews included elsewhere on the disc. This would be fine if it was a picture-in-picture feature, but you actually have to leave the film for a few minutes until the clip finishes. I don't care for it. There's also a fact track that tosses out bits of trivia as you watch the film. Next, we have a 16-minute interview with George Jung himself, which is quite tragic. Jung looks like a train wreck, and seems immensely grateful to have had a film actually made about him. He also claims that Johnny Depp, "Blew my mind, and literally became me." "Lost Paradise -- Cocaine's Impact on Columbia" is a 23-minute documentary on how cocaine has changed that part of the world. It's quite good, though it has nothing to do with the film. "Addiction: Body and Soul" is a 6-minute examination of how drugs ruin the lives of people. Nikka Costa turns in a so-so music video for "Push and Pull," and there are 17 minutes of video diaries courtesy of Ted Demme. There's a half-hour of deleted scenes, a couple of trailers, and some "character outtakes" featuring the actors in character talking about George Jung. A pretty impressive batch of stuff, to be sure.
The saving grace of the film is the eclectic casting, which mostly goes a long way towards adding some intrigue to the proceedings. The movie is filled with unusual actors who stray from the conventional. That certainly applies to Johnny Depp, who does everything he can with a rather dull role. At times the sheer blandness of the part threatens to overwhelm Depp, but he keeps his head above water and turns in a solid performance. I was surprised by how good Paul Reubens (Pee-Wee's Big Adventure) is here as one of Jung's associates. Franka Potente (Run Lola Run) is engaging as Jung's first love interest, even if the second-billed Penelope Cruz (Volver) is a screeching cliché as the second. Ray Liotta and Rachel Griffiths (Six Feet Under) have some nice scenes as Jung's parents, watching sadly and responding in their own opposite ways as their son slips into oblivion.
Blow doesn't quite blow it, but I still regard it as a wasted opportunity. Disappointing.
Review content copyright © 2008 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 123 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Fact Track
* Focus Points
* Vintage Documentaries on Cocaine
* George Jung Interviews
* Video Diaries
* Music Video
* Deleted Scenes
* Character Outtakes