Blow ★★★

The true life story of George Jung, one of the most infamous and successful drug runners of cocaine in the US during the 70's & 80's, may on the face of it be one about the eponymous 'blow' and Colombian cartels vying for a foothold on the world's most lucrative criminal market, but Ted Demme's penultimate movie deep down is truly about family. Blow on the surface has all the glitz and glamour of a wannabe Goodfellas, but in truth it's the tale of a young boy seeking to escape his father's fate and chase a different kind of American Dream - cautionary tale about the corruption of wealth wrapped around the deconstruction of a man and his family, spread across decades. Such a sprawling canvas however makes for a movie that, much like the glitzy sheen of Jung's life, struggles to reach the necessary depth to make it the great crime picture it has the odd flash of being.

The reason perhaps is because Blow feels quite episodic, having to blast through such a long period of time it rarely has the chance to stop and breathe, and as a result numerous characters or plot points feels sketched in rather than necessarily developed. What does work well, as you'd expect, is Johnny Depp as Jung - now he seems to be content solely playing annoying pirates or oddballs, so it's easy to forget at times Depp makes a good line in charismatic villains too, though it's a stretch to call Jung that; he's really just a misguided soul who, as he puts it in the concurrent voice-over that runs through the picture, a man who's 'ambition far exceeded his talent'. Depp nicely takes Jung from being an idealistic young guy seeking to avoid the fate of his unlucky in life father (a dignified Ray Liotta) all the way to a broken figure haunted by his mistakes, who ends up repeating the same cycle only managing to lose far more than his father ever did. Demme manages to keep Jung's journey as the soul of the picture, filling it along the way with cool tunes, the exorbitant glamour of the rock'n'roll drug cartel lifestyle, and the danger of the Colombian cartels, but it's Jung's emotional voyage that both keeps Blow on a steady course yet prevents it from going anywhere too memorable; it's almost quite safe, flirting with all of the above components without committing to any of them, nor does it allow talented actresses such as Penelope Cruz or Rachel Griffifths the chance to play much beyond caricatures. In trying to cover everything, Demme's movie seems to cover nothing in too much substance.

That's ultimately the undoing of Blow, a movie which nonetheless has plenty going for it. Never less than entertaining, with a solid central performance by Johnny Depp flanked by a talented cast, replete with a genuinely involving story that holds a microscope up to the drug culture of the 70's while equally managing to tell quite a personal, sweet character story along the way, Ted Demme crafts a movie that frequently holds its own... but can't ever ascribe to having any particular depth beyond the surface, and that's too great a problem to fully excuse it.

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