Director Ted Demme's hazy drug biography "Blow" doesn't really bring much new to the table in terms of biopics, but it does make a place for itself in the midst of other recent drug epics "Traffic" and "Requiem For a Dream" . The film stars Johnny Depp as real-life drug dealer George Jung, who single-handedly reportedly fueled the rise in Cocaine in the 80's. The film starts off in Jung's Massachusetts childhood, where his mother (Rachel Griffiths) was consistently displeased with the results of his hard-working father (Ray Liotta).
George swears from that day on that he'll never end up poor. Striking out on his own, he ends up in California with pals Tuna (Ethan Suplee of "Mallrats") and stewardess Barbara (Franka Potente of "Run Lola Run"). He finds out that he can make a great deal of cash selling pot that he's getting from Barbara's hairdresser Derek (Paul Rubens). He realizes that he's doing well enough to expand his business outwards, but with the expansion of such business brings severe risk. He sets up a distribution system with Barbara where the drugs are being transported to the East Coast - since she's a stewardess, her bags are not checked (I'd be interested to know if this little fact is really true).
It's obvious that George is eventually going to be caught, and he does slip up. When he returns to California, the old gang has split up and things become largely less sunny. Barbara dies unexpectedly and George hits a wall - he's now become a fugitive from the law. He comes home to his parents where he tells his father that he's good at what he does, to which his father responds, "you could have been good at anything". The police are waiting outside and after that, we find ourselves in the midst of the film's second half.
George is locked away in prison and it looks as if his life's going nowhere. His roommate in prison is curious about what makes George tick and eventually, the two discuss what George's business was in the past. He suggests that George should switch-up his business plan and sell Cocaine instead of the pot that he's been smuggling and dealing in the past. That's where the picture starts to become something different and darker altogether. George becomes involved with the Colombian drug lords, who are dangerous folks to deal with; he finds himself a new wife (Penelope Cruz), whose growing addiction turns her sour.
"Blow" is an interesting picture. Its fuel is mainly style, which it has in spades. Demme throws together different film stocks, color palettes and camera tricks to throw us into the story. What it doesn't offer a great deal of, unfortunately, is character detail. George is the only character who gets the focus of the movie's attention and thankfully, Depp is fantastic. Self-assured, confident and dramatic. Cruz, on the other hand, who is a lovely actress with a honey voice, is simply allowed to be a shrill, angry woman who occasionally gets George in even deeper trouble than he's already in. She's previously played sweet, delicate, beautiful souls - this character doesn't suit her in the least.
Demme's style gives the picture energy, but it doesn't give it direction. The film's scenes feel like episodes of their own and as it heads into the second half, I was longing for it to head towards a distinct point rather than be a series of ups and downs. That, and it would have been nice to get more insight into the man himself and the scene. "Blow" includes little in the way of "Casino"-esque looks behind-the-scenes, with the exception of the opening credits where we're taken on a tour of a cocaine farm. Nor are there really any instances of scenes where the damage that the drug does are really portrayed.
"Blow" certainly isn't a terrible picture, but I wasn't entirely as engaged or as interested in the story of George Jung as I would have liked to have been. There's a more interesting story buried underneath "Blow", but unfortunately it never rises to the surface of an only occasionally compelling picture.
VIDEO: The film is presented in 2.35:1 (1080p/VC-1) and the results are mostly very good. The movie has a grainy, somewhat gritty appearance, and with the exception of a few moments that have a slightly "digital" look to them, the transfer handles the style of the film well. Sharpness and detail are improved over the DVD edition, but the film still has a slightly soft look in some scenes - which appears to be by intent. Flaws include some light edge enhancement and some stretches that show some specks and marks on the elements used. Colors, depending on the passage in the movie, generally looked bright and vibrant, with no problems. Flesh tones also looked accurate and natural. Overall, this was a nice upgrade from the DVD, although it won't be a title used to demo the format.
SOUND: "Blow" is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1. The film is largely a dialogue-driven affair, with occasional outward expansion from ambient sounds and the music. Surrounds come in occasionally, doing fine work re-inforcing the tunes from the various eras. Ambient sounds are delivered rather inconsistently; some scenes present them lightly while others have the surrounds simply silent. A couple of moments have the sounds of airplanes passing overhead.
Audio quality was perfectly fine. The music sounded superb and came through with great strength and energy. The ambient sounds - birds, etc, sounded realistic and natural. Dialogue also came through sounding natural and clear, as well. A very nice audio presentation, but nothing groundbreaking or suprising.
EXTRAS: The extras are presented in standard definition.
Commentary: This is a commentary from director Ted Demme and George Jung. Demme is an interesting character who speaks intelligently and provides a lot of informative and insightful bits during much of the track. He keeps things consistent and doesn't veer all over the place, starting off the film with a fine discussion of what inspired him to start the project in the first place. Jung (who sounds vaguely like Depp at times) has been recorded separately, since he's still in prison; he occasionally pops in on the track to discuss the real-life stories behind some of the scenes. He's an interesting speaker, as well, and I would have liked to have heard a little more from him. Demme provides a good listen, though. He's funny, informative and is willing to discuss those in the crew who played a particular role in inspiring an element of a scene. There's a few minor pauses of silence here and there throughout the track, but for the most part, the two participants keep things going very well.
Deleted Scenes: 10 deleted scenes are presented with optional commentary from director Ted Demme. These scenes are mainly taken out for the reason of time, or for the fact that the information has been covered already elsewhere. Thankfully, "play all" can be chosen for this section rather than having the viewer go from scene to scene.
George Jung Interviews: 8 separate interviews pieces are presented with director Ted Demme interviewing Jung about various things from the pre-production of the movie to casting to stories about his life and times.
Production Diary: At first look, one might mistake this for some text-based supplement, but it's something definitely more interesting. This section provides 12 short featurettes that take the viewer onto the set for what went on during that particular day of the 67 day shoot, with director Demme playing host. Each of the separate featurettes last a couple of minutes each. Again, "play all" can thankfully be chosen.
Trailers: This section includes the exciting and interesting teaser trailer as well as the full theatrical trailer.
"Lost Paradise" is a 25 minute documentary that takes viewers into the history of the drug trade and includes interviews with some of the main players. It's a graphic documentary at times, but those who are interested in what's portrayed in the film might find this informative. It's presented in Spanish with English subtitles. Addiction: Body and Soul is a six minute featurette that provides interviews and information about the effects of alcohol and drug addiction.
Character Outtakes: This section provides short clips of the main characters discussing their thoughts about George. Interesting, but will only probably be something that viewers check out once.
Also: Cast and crew bios, subtitle fact track, Nikka Costa music video. The Blu-Ray also offers "Focus Points", a feature that allows viewers to jump to additional archive footage about the topic.
Final Thoughts:"Blow" has it's positives and negatives; while the performances are solid, the material lacks depth. The Blu-Ray edition offers improved good audio/video quality, as well as most of the materials from the previous DVD special edition. A recommended rental.
The Film C+