This is the Depp that I like, and I wish he’d take a break from Jack Sparrow, or Tonto, and get back to his roots- in a serious, gritty drama like this. BLOW goes hand-in-hand with his earlier DONNIE BRASCO, and while in that film he played second banana to Al Pacino, here he holds the screen all on his own, as Jung. A fascinating figure, Demme clearly sympathizes with the man. While he helped flood the American streets with coke, and paved the way for crack, he’s painted as a relatively benign guy- just trying to make that all important buck.
Unlike most other gangsters, guns and coke flicks, BLOW is surprisingly short on violence. Jung was no SCARFACE, and never resorted to violence, just being the middle man. Like all classic gangsters, he has the come-up, culminating in his dominance of coke in the U.S, and his marriage to Columbian princess Penelope Cruz (one of her first big American films). And then, the inevitable come-down, as he spirals into an out-of-control coke addiction, and has to deal with rivals trying to usurp his connections.
Jung’s redeemed here by the love he has for his young daughter- played by a ten-year-old Emma Roberts- but his desire to supply her with a stable home leads to his final defeat. All told, Jung’s rags-to-riches-to-rags story is an American classic, and the man is brilliantly portrayed by Depp, and it amazed me this was shut out of the Oscars (thanks mostly to New Line’s questionable move to open this in the spring, although the film still grossed a solid $50 million). The supporting cast is similarly good, with Ray Liotta (star of GOODFELLAS’, to which this has a lot of similarities) in a surprisingly touching performance as Jung’s dad. Paul Reubens, aka Pee Wee Herman plays the unlikely part of Jung’s main coke distributor, but he nailed the part- and it’s a surprise it didn’t lead to more dramatic parts.
The real tragedy of BLOW has to be director Ted Demme. A seminal figure at MTV (his baby, ‘YO MTV RAPS’ is responsible for bringing hip-hop to the mainstream), BLOW was by fire his finest film, and it seemed like he was bound to make more great films. Alas, Demme didn’t heed his own film’s warnings about the dangers of coke, and died just a few months after this came out, despite only being in his thirties. While he didn’t OD’, cocaine was found in his system, and many have speculated that drugs played a part in his early demise. This is a real tragedy, as he likely had lots of good films left in him.
That grisly bit of trivia aside, it was a great disc, chalkful of insightful extras, and they’re all here- most in 1080p to boot. My favorite features are the character testimonials which to me feel as essential as anything in the film. The deleted scenes are also excellent. Ted Demme is on hand for the commentary track along with the now-deceased George Jung- with them recording this from prison. Extracts from Demme’s interviews with Jung are also here, along with a solid little documentary on Cocaine’s effect on Columbia, called Lost Paradise along with another piece on addiction, called Body & Soul which plays like it was tacked on by an overly cautious studio. There’s also the trailer and some nifty production diaries .