Steve Beitler for DRCNet
Rushing through the door to the Hollywood mainstream that "Traffic" opened, "Blow" is mainly of interest to reformers not for what it shows but because it exists. The tone of the movie is hackneyed and conservative, but "Blow" does have some good acting and engaging visuals. At bottom, it's another small sign that the failure of the drug war is becoming a peculiar form of the conventional wisdom.
"Blow" tells the story of George Jung (pronounced Young), a Massachusetts guy who is hell-bent on not being poor. Jung begins his quest by dealing pot after he moves to southern California in 1968 and falls in with stewardesses who are happy to lug the weed in their unchecked suitcases.
There's a lot in a dealer's life that George likes. He has a good feel for business and is soon steering a large operation. Nabbed with more than 600 pounds of pot, George heads to prison, where his cellmate is a colleague of Pablo Escobar, the Colombian cocaine titan. This stroke of networking fortune kicks George's career into the big leagues. He is soon a major coke distributor with the money, trophy wife and habit to prove it.
George's rise and fall as a coke dealer follow a predictable arc. He has to buy a house just to store all his cash, which he keeps in hundreds of eye-catching floor-to-ceiling piles and random stacks. The wife gets crazy on the merchandise. George is flipped to the cops by a group of up-and-comers that includes an old buddy, a competitive strike that lands George in the tank, where he will be living until 2015.
While the story lurches ahead, the movie occasionally weighs in with insights on family and money and children that are muddled and tired. This is where "Blow" serves up scenes that are, along with the cliches, the movie's biggest drawback. The best parts are when "Blow" revisits the time when coke seemed like too good an answer to too many questions for too many people.
Rachel Griffiths as George's grasping mother is excellent, but Ray Liotta as his play-by-the-rules-but-come-up-short Dad is bland. Johnny Depp as George smirks a lot, says "Everything was perfect" when it wasn't close, and has the clothes and hair down very well.
Bruce Porter wrote the book that led to "Blow," which doesn't add much to the cinematic history of the drug war. That's okay. "Blow" is a ripe bit of low-hanging fruit in Hollywood's endless search for strong stories. They didn't do much with what they had, but this is a movie that would not have been made 10 years ago, so its arrival may be a modest mark of progress on reform.