Blow Review

It's funny how we pick up traits from our parents without even realising it. Based on a true story and book by Bruce Porter, Blow starts with young George Jung in the nineteen fifties, raised by his two ideologically different parents. His mother Ermine (Rachel Griffiths) is unhappy; she's bitter and resentful of George's father Fred Jung (Ray Liotta), as despite his honest and hard working occupation he has failed to bring enough money home to provide for her tastes. Money is everything to Ermine, and she frequently leaves the family when times are hard. However, Fred always takes her back. Gradually, Fred slips towards bankruptcy, but doesn't care. He gives George some valuable words, that money isn't everything. In their poverty, George finds this advice hard to understand. Which is why George chooses the occupation he made his name in. Now a young adult, George (Johnny Depp) moves to Los Angeles, and soon basks in the sunshine with bikini girls and stoner friends. Not as some ambitious scheme, but more in the form of pure supply-and-demand factors, George and his friends realise that they could make a big profit on the selling of marijuana to their beach buddies. Soon their thoughts turn to grander scales, and it isn't long before George is in and out of jail, best friends with feared Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, who is not a man to be crossed, and supplying cocaine to most of America whilst living in relative luxury. Like any rags-to-riches-to-rags story however, Blow fluctuates in tone between the good parts of Jung's life and the bad, such as his neglect of his young daughter and his frequent betrayals by those closest to him, including his own mother and wife!

Considering the director of Blow, Ted Demme, tragically died three weeks ago due to heart failure in a celebrity basketball game, and the coroner found traces of cocaine in Demme's system, the film takes on an altogether new angle. Here is a biopic of sorts in which the protagonist is presented as a likeable and honest soul full of integrity, whose unfortunate crime was to be a major drug dealer for people who wanted drugs. Blow makes George Jung a very appealing person, but it doesn't apologise to his inadvertent victims. Jung made an enormous amount of money off of illegal activity, and introduced most of mainstream America to cocaine, and yet the film almost these portrays actions as if it were his right to do them. When his daughter doesn't ever visit him in jail, we are suppose to feel sorry for Jung, despite the obvious facts that suggests him to be a lousy father for the most part. This is a film about business and industry without the white suits. We see the dealers, the major players, but we don't see the consumers. It's almost as if the film deliberately avoids the moral standpoint about drugs, and thinks the story is enough when centred on Jung himself. When Jung does regret his actions, it is because of the way he treats his daughter, not over the crimes he has committed. It's worrying that the film doesn't even attempt to counter Jung's opinion on his wrongdoings. Blow isn't about drugs, it's about a man's life, in which he happened to be a drug dealer

Even so, Blow is a very good film if one buys into the Jung character. He's winningly played by Johnny Depp as a man who would never cheat, double-cross, lie to or even hurt anyone. Jung is also portrayed as too forgiving, particularly to friends and relatives who care about him much less than he cares about them. However, Jung is almost impossible to dislike, if only for the kind-hearted smile that seems to perfectly suit Depp's face. Despite all of the moral problems of Jung, the audience never at any point refuses to care. This is the problem with the rest of the characters of the film, in that they are all presented as double-crossing back-stabbers, ready to step on Jung at any moment and use him to their own advantage. Both George's mum Ermine, played devilishly by Rachel Griffiths, or his cokehead wife Mirtha, played by Penelope Cruz, are almost presented as despicable as murderous drug lord Pablo Escobar himself in the film. In fact, Escobar generates slight sympathy about his cause, when he shows intelligence and sensitivity regarding Colombia's poverty. Ermine and Mirtha on the other hand, are both presented as scheming and self-centred, with no apparent reason for having this disposition. Ray Liotta has a charming role as George's honourable father Fred, whose desire for a life of integrity over materialism seems to be George's only lighthouse amidst the stormy waters. It is these sequences between George and Fred that are the most poignant.

The cinematography by Ellen Kuras deserves special mention, as rarely has a film's visual factor so eloquently captured the period in which certain sequences are set. The sixties look like the sixties, and the eighties look like the eighties. This device helps proceedings greatly, as Blow glosses over many years of Jung's life, and would be hard to follow in most usual cases. Kuras' photography is bright and vivid, and yet images are never beautiful. Colours are almost excessive, almost mirroring Jung's life. The thumping soundtrack of classic sixties and seventies rock songs is brilliant, and a worthy CD purchase. The songs are icons in themselves, and help provide the film with a sense of time in place, coupled with the magnificent cinematography.

Blow is a highly interesting and entertaining film even if it is ultimately misleading in its portrayal of its main protagonist. It makes no bones about generating sympathy for George Jung, and it certainly doesn’t wish to judge him or his mistakes in any way, other than via the same regrets Jung holds himself. Claiming that the film is about the drug industry is like claiming Animal Farm is about a farm, as the appeal of the film is George Jung's everyman quality, even if he was given a more extraordinary lifestyle. Ted Demme directs Blow with relative slickness, and yet he presents the film in a way that represents Jung's life. First the happy whirlwind lifestyle, and then the bang, which is followed by the painful sequences. Blow isn't perfect, but it suggested that Demme, nephew of Oscar winner Jonathan Demme (Silence Of The Lambs), at least had potential for greatness, which unfortunately will forever go unfulfilled.

Presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen, the picture is crisper than the Region 1 version but still contains some digital artefacts in some of the brighter, blue-skied sequences. Because the cinematography of the film is very good, and varied in its period styles, Blow is a must-see in widescreen, and the DVD presents it in a near-flawless transfer.

Presented in either a 5.1 surround mix or a 2.0 surround mix, the audible quality of Blow on Region 2 DVD is very good. The good soundtrack songs are very prominent on the mix, and are not rendered as fillers for background noise. Although the film is mostly dialogue driven, there are some interesting panning effects to some of the sound elements, and the mix is overall full of clarity and abundant in tone.

Menu: A rocking-good menu, with colourful, razzle-dazzle images that seem to tie in with the Warhol-esque iconography of the sixties with the film, complete with quick-cut montages of photos from the film.

Packaging: Unfortunately, Entertainment In Video decide to yet again use their awful template of white border trim complete with thousands of one-word stock-praise quotes. This is a shame, as the Region 1 cover artwork was fairly tasteful.


Audio Commentary With Ted Demme & George Jung: Whereas Chopper featured a commentary from the protagonist after his release from prison, Blow has a commentary which contains the real-life George Jung commenting from his prison cell! Director Ted Demme takes over proceedings most of the time, talking enthusiastically about his involvement on the film and his thought-processes on the directorial decisions he made. Again, it's quite a shame to hear Demme talk so happily about the film, as he clearly had enough energy to follow Blow with a fine career. Because of feasibility, Jung's comments have been cut-and-pasted into Demme's commentary, and he adds heart-warming insight with regards to the key-moments of his life. As commentaries go, this is one of the better ones.

George Jung Interviews: A series of short interviews shot by director Ted Demme and interviewing George Jung from his correctional institute. The interviews are separated into topics, and can be viewed separately or together in one reel. They last for approximately fifteen minutes in total, and are fascinating viewing, since they show Jung to be honest, charismatic and level-headed about his wrong-doings.

Fact-Track: An excellent subtitle feature that presents facts about the film, its subject and the era in which certain sequences are set. Facts are random in content and yet always remain interesting, and as a feature this is better at times than most commentaries.

Production Diary: Separated into various daily segments or available in a complete reel showcasing them all, this production diary is shorter in length to the Paul Thomas Anderson diary on Magnolia, but it is similar in style. It shows Demme as a likeable fellow who fully interacts with his cast and crew, and suggests the production to be a laid-back and fun time for all. It also illustrates the fact that the director has a small cameo in the film as Jung's lawyer who gives him a tape recorder. The segments last for approximately eighteen minutes.

Addiction: Body And Soul: This is a six minute featurette that formed part of New Line's Region 1 'Infinifilm' version. As Entertainment In Video have not incorporated this extra, they have instead simply placed it on the menu as an extra in its own right. Essentially, this featurette is essentially an information programme about the effects of drugs, featuring comments from past-users and doctors.

Lost Paradise: Cocaine's Impact on Columbia: Another featurette pulled from the Region 1 'Infinifilm' version. This lasts for twenty-three minutes, is presented in the Spanish language with English subtitles, and is quite a dry documentary on the thriving drug trade in Colombia. Again, the featurette contains interviews from relevant members of the industry, from police officers to drug barons.

Deleted Scenes: An extensive selection of deleted scenes from the film, featuring optional commentary from Ted Demme. Watching these excellent sequences places the film in a different light, since it now seems a more style-over-substance effort, considering that major and important sub-plots have been omitted. Sequences include George's greater involvement with Pablo Escobar, in which he asks permission to seek vengeance on his friend Diego, and a completely excised sub-plot in which George has to testify against Diego. Presented in anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1.

Character Outtakes: These are actually actors performing 'in character' of what they think of George Jung. They are quite effective, if slightly pointless, and suggest that they are either some form of testing process or promotional material. Even so, they are quite watchable, and lasts for nine minutes.

Nikka Costa - "Push And Pull" - Music Video: A four-minute music video featuring the moderate Nikka Costa number "Push and Pull", which closed off the soundtrack CD.

Trailers: Two trailers are provided, a teaser and the full theatrical version, and they present Blow as a hip, quirky drug drama starring hip and quirky Johnny Depp, whilst underplaying the film's darker undertones.

Cast & Crew: Brief filmographies of the main cast and crew, presented as on-screen text.

A very good effort at portraying a man remarkable for all of the wrong reasons is provided with an exceptional DVD, that falls slightly shorter than the R1 version, due to the omission of DVD-ROM content and the "Infinifilm" feature. Even so, Blow is a fabulous package, and a worthy factor in anyone's diverse collection.

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