"Blow" Blu-ray Review
October 13, 2008 by Zach Demeter
Released in 2001 to split critical acclaim, Blow wandered into theaters without much noise and left again before anyone really noticed. With under sixty million in revenue under its belt, it was only the stars of the film that gave it any clout, with Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz headlining this true story based on a cocaine dealer in the 70’s/80’s. Although not known for its originality or…well, much of anything, Blow still manages to entertain with its fast paced story and entertaining voice over.
There’s no money in a “real job.” So George Jung deals pot. Lots of it. The blue-collar kid dubbed Boston George spirals up from there, into the riches and excesses of the huge cocaine cartels. And crashes hard. Johnny Depp portrays George, the ambitious outlaw who, perhaps more than any American, transformed powder cocaine from relative obscurity in the U.S. into a 1970s/’80s feeding frenzy. Penelope Cruz costars in this riveting, fact-inspired tale of glitz and glamor, fast times and hard time, betrayal and Blow.
Although this film proceeded the recent hit American Gangster, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between the two. In fact, aside from their final outcomes in life, the leads in both films really could have been interchanged with only their personalities really being the main difference. I’m actually rather surprised now, having seen Blow, that this film didn’t get more acclaim than it did. While American Gangster does include a police angle as well, the two films really aren’t all that much different in setup; they both start at the beginning and work up to the end, although, admittedly, Gangster had more action packed into it.
But enough of the comparisons between two films that were released five years apart from one another; we’re here to talk about Blow. This was another film I didn’t watch upon its release, although I’m not entirely sure why; I had ready access to a copy of it for many years, but I never took the time to watch it. The story intrigued me but…I don’t know, I just couldn’t pick it up. When the Blu-ray release was announced, I saw that was my opportunity to get off my butt and finally see the film and quite frankly, aside from being a little dry in parts, this is really good film. I’m not entirely sure why it currently holds at 54% on Rotten Tomatoes, although the 7.4 on IMDb is a bit more around what I’d peg this film at. Admittedly both sites are terribly flawed in their ratings systems, but they do manage to paint a decent enough picture most of the time about the overall quality of a film.
An element of the film I really enjoyed was the voice over by Depp. Not only did it help fill the viewer in on what was going on during the fast paced moments of the screen, but it also gave some insight into the man that George Jung was. Seeing his parents through the years was also great, although I’m a bit mixed on Cruz’s performance as his money grubbing wife. At first you like her but she becomes such an incredibly horrible mother and wife shortly into the film that you begin to wonder what Jung saw in her. It’s also kind of disappointing she gets second billing in the film as she’s hardly in the darn thing. The rest of the cast, ranging from Ray Liotta to Paul Reubens, is just as superbly cast. I greatly enjoyed watching everyone of them and I began to appreciate this underrated film all the more.
But as good as the supporting cast was, it was Depp who really shined in the film. I’m as big of a Depp fan as the rest of Hollywood at this point in time, but he really did a great job here. After being so used to seeing him in pirate make-up or slicing people’s throats, I forgot how versatile he could be. He almost always played it cool and whether it was facing a customs agent or his many run-ins with the police, Depp always managed to fill the scene with a great presence. The final sequence in the film was also genuinely moving, as almost entirely random as it was.
As odd as it is, Blow really made you feel compassion for a pot and cocaine dealer. Every time he got caught, you hated seeing it. While I’m sure some of the film was embellished, the film still gives off a feeling of being genuine. There isn’t much flash and pomp to this film and it lays out everything in front of you with little requirement to piece anything together, but as by-the-numbers as the film is, it’s still a fascinating story and a great time. Recommended.
Warner is starting to surprise me with these Blu-ray releases…they are genuinely not half-assing it as I expected them to. Instead we get some actual Blu-ray only extra type content, although whether it was carried over from the original DVD release I can’t say. In any case the film itself is presented in a standard Elite Blu-ray case with two discs inside. The second disc, of course, is a digital copy of the film. A code for the digital copy and an insert telling you to update your player’s firmware are also included. As with all Warner Blu-ray titles, the film auto-plays so there’s no real menu system to speak of, though after the film ends there is a still image of Depp that remains as a placeholder behind the minimal pop-up menu.
First up we have the video and audio for this film. Presented in a 1080p VC-1 encoded 2.40:1 video transfer, Blow manages to impress even after seven years. There is some nice character and facial detail throughout and the film rarely gets hazy or waxy. Despite the nice transfer, it isn’t really anything to write home about as the film itself never really steps up to any kind of great cinematography peak; it’s all pretty standard fare, but a few of the beach sequences do look nice with their over saturated look. Those hoping for a HD audio mix will be disappointed however, as this film has a standard Dolby Digital 5.1 track only. It’s not a bad mix, but if you’ve watched the original DVD you’ve heard it all before. No alternate audio tracks are included; subtitles are only in English.
The big Blu-ray extra here is the Focus Points (Warner’s version of “BonusView” and “Picture-in-Picture”) that runs throughout the course of the film. Included in the Focus Points is vintage footage that can be played as you watch the film itself. There are some really interesting and entertaining clips to check out here, if only for their historical viewpoint. Next is a “Fact Track”, a glorified subtitle track that plays throughout the film. The rest of the extras are all from the original DVD release and strangely enough…they’re all upscaled to 1080p. The packaging denotes them as being in either 480i/p, but they are actually in full 1080p format, as odd as it is. They don’t really look any better upscaled to this point, but I guess they felt they had disc space to burn through.
George Jung Interviews (16:07) is first and quite honestly these are some of my favorite extras on the disc. When paired with the Commentary with Ted Demme and George Jung, they offer up some absolutely fascinating dialogue between the director and the man the film is about. It’s rare to see a film like this and still have the individuals who inspired it still be alive to talk about it. Next is "Lost Paradise: Cocaine’s Impact on Colombia" (23:42), a historical look at the drug which his continued in "Addiction: Body and Soul" (6:29). "Production Day" (17:31) is a behind-the-scenes look at the film, while "Deleted Scenes" (28:28) gives us a slew of cutting room floor footage. Unlike the rest of the extras on the disc, these deleted scenes do look like they’re in actual full 1080p and not jut upscaled; there’s an extra level of depth and clarity to them that the other extras don’t have.
Finally we have some trailers (3:28) and outtakes (9:24). There’s a decent mix of extras here to check out and I’m especially grateful that Warner carried over all of the goodies from the original New Line DVD release from 2001. While it may not feature a cocaine white case as the DVD release did, this Blu-ray version is still a nice upgrade for those who enjoyed the film—but only if you really enjoyed it. The video transfer is nice, but not enough to write home about.
Blow is now available on Blu-ray.