- Various Artists
2.5 / 5 Stars
Ted Demme's Blow is an interesting attempt at describing a key moment the history of cocaine in mainstream America. The film has its moments, but ultimately falls flat, succeeding more as a standard "just say no" message than as a compelling work of drama and modern history. Similarly, its soundtrack fails to push the envelope and make the film something special.
The film follows the real-life journey of George Jung (Johnny Depp) from being the loving son in a troubled family to the hardened man who introduced cocaine into America. George's past is troubled enough so that you can't help feel sorry for him, but as he proceeds to screw up his life again, and again, and again, you ultimately can't help but not feel too sorry for him. As we see this likeable man destroy himself and his family, we lose interest in him and the story. What saves the film from mediocrity is Depp, who somehow always maintains a level of hurt that keeps the audience feeling for him. Unfortunately, Demme's storytelling is not as evocative, and we soon feel like we are going through the motions of the story of another drug kingpin descending into oblivion. Having said that, the idea of a film about George Jung is fascinating, and there are moments, especially early on, when you as an audience member really want to know what happens next. However, Demme relies too heavily on film references (i.e. Goodfellas) and enough not on his own abilities to make a great film. Blow ends up tasting vanilla.
Like the film itself, the soundtrack takes few chances. When you have a film so rooted in a time period, in this case, the 1970's, a filmmaker is tempted to just slap on a bunch of period-specific oldies. Sometimes, the chemistry between celluloid and oldies works, as in Boogie Nights, but here, Demme decided to just say yes to period music from The Rolling Stones, Cream, and KC and the Sunshine Band without really working it in with the drama of the story. There are certainly moments where the music enhances the mood of the film, but it never really draws us in and makes us feel a part of the story or the time period. There is some original music by Graeme Revell in the film (which does not appear on the soundtrack CD) which is fine as music, but which does not fill in the emotional gaps left by the uneven storytelling. Revell is a gifted composer but it seems that the music suffered from the same lack of focus that the film did. Also, there are a couple of modern retro pieces from the J Girls and Nikka Costa, which are nice additions, but neither really makes too much of a difference in making the film more compelling.
Ultimately, nothing about the film or the music is that bad. At the core of Blow is a very good film, but the execution lacks the focus and originality it needed to become something really good. Similarly, the soundtrack is certainly competently done, with a solid selection of oldies, but the pieces are never woven into the story in a way that makes the sound and image work together fluidly. The CD will do little to conjure favorite scenes or images from the film. However, I would recommend it to those interested in the specific oldies on the disc; there are some nice tunes that would serve you well when you're in that '70's mood.
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