Blow
New Line // R // $28.99 // September 23, 2008
Review by Ryan Keefer | posted October 15, 2008
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R E V I E W S
Graphical Version
The Movie:

Blow was directed by Ted Demme, who died of a heart attack shortly after the film was released. Demme, the nephew of Jonathan, had made a few films which had a visual style that was a work in progress, to be sure. With that said, Blow is one of those self-professed labors of love for Demme, and he tried doing a lot of different visual tricks to help shine a sympathetic light on George Jung, who rose from a modest family upbringing in Massachusetts to being part of the operation that Pablo Escobar ran to bring cocaine into America in the '70s and '80s.

David McKenna (American History X) adapted the book of the same name, and Jung is played by Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean). The focus on Jung starts with his move out to California with a friend. He meets and falls in love with Barbara (Franka Potente, Run Lola Run), a stewardess who introduces George to Derek Foreal (Paul Reubens, Pee Wee's Big Adventure), and mentions the promise of making large sums of money by bringing marijuana back east with Barbara's help. Demand exceeds supply in short order, so operations eventually grow bigger and bolder. Soon, George tries to introduce her mother (Rachel Griffiths, The Rookie) and father (Ray Liotta, Goodfellas) to Barbara, however his mother is disapproving of his lifestyle, while his father seemingly provides him unconditional love, even as George is arrested and sentences for possession and distribution, and skips bail before that.

When Jung skips, he tries to take care of Barbara, who eventually succumbs to cancer. It's in jail where George meets his cellmate, a Colombian who tells him that cocaine distribution is the future. He goes down to Colombia and eventually is introduced to as aspiring but ruthless young Escobar (Cliff Curtis, Live Free or Die Hard). Pablo, George and his cellmate Diego (Jordi Molla, Bad Boys II) go into business together. Soon, Derek presses George to be introduced to the partnership, and eventually cuts George out of the loop. George decides to leave the business, but a party hosted by his wife Mirtha (Penelope Cruz, Vanilla Sky) includes various luminaries of the business, and a DEA raid results in George's arrest. He's also arrested later when Mirtha is high and accuses him of being a dealer. He still leaves the business, even after an eight-figure bank deposit is appropriated by the country where his bank is, but decides to do one more deal before getting out, and raising Kristina for the rest of his life.

The fatal flow that Demme has with the film is that, as opposed to similar era films that either flirt with or go full bore into both the era and the drug material, is that with Jung, there's not a lot of sympathy to really give to him. There are other dramatic and tragic characters in other films that you want to see do well or even not get caught. Jung moves to California to get away from a crappy mother, and decides to start trafficking drugs. And every unoriginal script nuance is executed without imagination. Wow, there's no fatal flaw in his character, his relationship with his parents wants to be given more time before it fails miserably. He has the "one more deal and I'm out" mindset as well. His relationship with Kristina (played by a very young Emma Roberts) comes too late in the film to be really worthy of caring, especially when in the delivery room he is twitching from cocaine intoxication. Should we even be caring for a guy who's this much of a turd without really knowing it?

Credit does have to be given to Demme and Depp as they try to do what they can to make Jung seem, well, human. While he seems to be channeling a bit of his Hunter S. Thompson role here, his humanity and wanting to do what he can for Kristina is admirable. One scene where Mirtha visits him, Kristina is there, and watching Depp's tough fašade literally melt in front of your eyes makes for powerful stuff, regardless of the movie. But it's yeoman's work by this point, you've either tuned out (like I did) or flat out not cared, and these small moments of heart are lost in it all. Blow could have been better with a better story, or even in better hands, but just never left the ground.

The Blu-ray:
Video:

Blow's 2.40:1 widescreen presentation uses the VC-1 codec and is perfectly suitable for the production. Demme employed quite a few different style choices through the film, from lighting that has some noise issues, to outer frame distortions, yet the lighting aside, things still look decent. Facial features and detail in the tight shots is very good (spotting the cocaine on Jung's collar before heading to the hospital to watch Kristina being born being among one of a couple of different occasions), and the blacks look pretty good. Image softness tended to be a persistent and mildly annoying problem with the disc, and there's no real background dimensionality to speak of.

Sound:

The box lists just a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack for the film, but there's the surprise of a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track that you can play if you'd like, and have the equipment. The film is loaded with music, from the Rolling Stones to Lynyrd Skynyrd and many others of the era, and it's reproduced accurately without any distortion. The film's action however, isn't as immersive as one would expect. There's a clever moment when the speakers pan from front to back when an airplane lands on a Mexican landing strip, but very little else after that to make your jaw drop. And dialogue volume was on the inconsistent side, panning to the other front speakers occasionally without any real reason or justification. It's a decent sounding film, but nothing overly surprising or worthwhile.

Extras:

New Line has loaded this disc up with stuff, making me regret Demme's death further, as he appeared to have been a DVD-friendly director. He contributes a commentary with him and Jung, where Jung is recorded separately. Jung discusses the people and events in a little more detail, and Demme covers the production, and is full of information, stories, style choices, and the like. Demme discussing the heart attack scene is a little eerie to listen to, but if you liked the film, you'll like the commentary. A series of interesting features follow, starting with a production diary (17:31) that looks at the events on set as a camera follows Demme, and he does some shooting as well. Some unused footage from the film is included, along with some outtakes, but the piece is a lot of goofing around and not really all that informative. The other piece entitled "Lost Paradise" (23:41) examines the impact of the drug economy in Colombia with interviews from folks on both sides of the fence. It includes a lot of news footage from the events of the Escobar era, and interviews with those effected by it then and now. It's fascinating to watch and well worth the time. Ten deleted scenes follow (28:38), which include optional Demme commentary. Surprisingly the scenes aren't took bad, and follow the dynamic between George and Escobar a little more. It might have been nice to seen them in, replacing some final footage. Next are outtakes of the actors, in character, discussing Jung (9:24). The footage is OK, a little on the comedic side, but you can skip it. "Addiction: Body and Soul" (6:29) covers the physical and emotional effects of cocaine on the user, while Jung gives videotaped interviews from prison to Demme (16:06), which are OK, but a little tiresome to watch. A trailer and teaser follow, along with a music video (4:26) and a trivia track that can be played over the film, and there's even a second disc with a digital copy, in case you're into that kind of thing.

Closing Thoughts

It's a shame about Blow; it could have been a more powerfully emotional film, but instead, it just seems like an ode to a guy who really didn't care or was aware of who he was hurting and how he was hurting them at times. The performances are decent and technically, so's the disc, and the extras are plentiful, but when it comes to the film, Blow kinda does a little.



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