Blow is a film that was released in 2001, starring Johnny Depp as real-life drug smuggler George Jung. It was directed by Ted Demme, whose body of work I am largely unfamiliar with, but the premise sounded like it had potential. Jung was one of the most prolific drug runners in American history, an associate of Pablo Escobar, and largely responsible for fueling the cocaine craze of the 70s and 80s. With that real-life background, and A-list stars Johnny Depp and Penélope Cruz, one could be forgiven for expecting this to be an interesting movie.
Sadly, as this film meandered its way through 124 minutes, I nearly found myself nodding off a couple of times. And since I stayed up for about three hours afterward organizing my music files, I don’t think it can be blamed on fatigue.
I’m guessing they spent the budget for script rewrites on peroxide.
The problems with this film can be broken into three simple categories: the main character, the secondary characters, and the plot. In order for an audience to become invested in a main character, they must be either sympathetic or interesting in some way. This is probably the least interesting Depp performance I’ve ever seen. George is almost constantly out of focus emotionally; he barely reacts to anything. It’s as if sampling his own wares has burned out that section of his brain, but he starts off that way in the film. There’s some justification with a troubled home life, but regardless of the reason, it makes it hard to be interested in what he says or does. There’s no emotional weight to most of it, and no cleverness in the dialogue. He comes across as a perfectly ordinary, rather boring person — which, if accurate to real life, was probably helpful to George Jung’s career, but it makes for a dull screen performance. There is a bit of pathos to the character later on, a moment when the audience gains a smidgen of sympathy for him with the care he has for his daughter, but it’s only a smidgen. The rest of the time, we’re watching this dull person repeat the same mistakes over and over again without learning a thing. By the end of the movie, I was rooting for his final fall — not out of any sort of antipathy, for even that would be interest of a sort, but out of a simple desire to see it finally get things over with.
The supporting cast is not much better, largely being made up of talkative props. George’s first girlfriend, played by Franka Potente, has much the same sleepy demeanor as George. His later wife, played by Penélope Cruz, is the stereotypical “feisty Latina” character, and nothing more. She does at least liven things up a bit, and there’s an obvious parallel with his money-obsessed mother, but there’s only barely enough meat to the role to justify giving Cruz secondary billing — which she probably got simply because nobody else in the film warrants it either. Cruz is wasted in this, and so are most of the actors, particularly Ray Liotta as George’s father. Most of George’s “business associates” are blank ciphers whose personalities are defined through descriptions that aren’t demonstrated; Jordi Mollà’s character Diego insists the two of them are like brothers, but we see nothing to indicate this. Perhaps the closest the film gets to having a colorful character is Paul Reubens as George’s first drug contact, an effete Hollywood hair stylist with a marijuana business on the side.
Why is it that whenever I watch a movie about drugs, it features Paul Reubens?
The plot, at least in concept, ought to be interesting. George has to build his network of contacts, evade the law, deal with the occasional prison sentence when he doesn’t evade the law, deal with double-crosses, and try to build a stable home life. That should be a good movie. But everything has this same sleepy, plodding approach to it. The exciting stuff is almost always off-camera, or cut away from the second it begins — whether it’s a drug delivery, a drug raid, or a trial. His career, his home life, and his prison stays go by in a blur, not because of the film being fast paced, but because there’s a paucity of detail in the scenes themselves. The details of the events are filled in with narration, from Depp as George, and it too is dull. Depp reads the lines of narration like they’re the tax code; it is unenthusiastic and monotonous.
There are few things as aggravating about a movie as wasted potential. This could have, and should have, been an interesting film. But anything of merit was all lost in the haze. There is only one area I can give it my wholehearted praise: it had a great classic rock soundtrack. But it’s nothing you can’t hear on the radio, which is a better way to spend two hours.
Good review Morgan. It does sometimes feel like a bit of a rip-off of a Scorsese movie, but still kept me glued to the screen and entertained just about the whole time. Depp was amazing, too. Wish we saw more performances like these from him.
Wow, we couldn’t be more opposite on this, I think. I wasn’t entertained at all, and felt Depp’s performance barely qualified as one…
Starting to think you just dont like drug movies, Morgan. 😮 I’m with Dan, this is a really entertaining flick, with a lot going on, including an understated performance by Johnny Depp. Love the relationship between him and Cruz. Brings back fond memories for me, LOL.
Anyways, this movies rocks!.
Come on, now, I gave 5 stars to Layer Cake just, what, a couple weeks back? Not more than a month, certainly. 😀
If Depp’s performance were any more understated, he’d need his pulse checked.
This sounds interesting, the difference in opinion between your review and some of the comments makes me want to check this out and get my opinion on the film! 😀
Well, then, for your sake I hope you like it as much as Dan and Dan do. 😀
Mel and I were supremely disappointed when we saw this in theatres. I haven’t watched it since, though she’s caught some of it on cable. She said that it wasn’t nearly as bad… but she didn’t watch the whole thing, so I think that had something to do with it. We hated the pacing, and the story for the most part, if I’m remembering correctly.
And you see Paul Reubens in drug movies, because Paul Reubens is drug movies. All his movies are better, if not best, blazed out of your skull.
I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who didn’t like this soporific film. I was starting to feel outnumbered. 😀
I haven’t seen this in close to 10 years but I really liked it back then. In fact, I still own the DVD. Now you have me curious to see if it’s anywhere near as good as I remember.
Well, so far I seem to be in the minority opinion, for what it’s worth…
you organized your music for 3hours after watching Blow? imagine how much more you could’ve done during the 124 minutes of the movie itself? ha.
great review, Morgan. Yeah, I can’t make it through this movie in its entirety and I thought it might have been me. Thanks for showing me I wasn’t alone!
Yeah, I think I felt the need to be productive after sitting through that…
Glad to see the balance is tipping here. The initial reactions were making me think this was another “just me” situation. 😀