Blowin' in the Wind

Don't blame Blow because it's not a drug movie along the high-flying lines of other recent drug movies. Blow is not some complex mosaic about the endlessly sticky worldwide web of drug supply and demand a la Traffic; nor is it a harrowing worm's eye view of the personal trauma of addiction a la Requiem for a Dream. Although not at all a bad movie, Blow isn't really in the same league with either of those films; it's a more conventionally entertaining trip, and one that doesn't really strive for the same degree of complexity or intensity as those other drug movies. Blow is, at root, a competently executed rise and fall yarn about an ordinary guy who avoids poverty by selling weed in the '60s, graduates to dealing coke and then winds up falling as far as he can fall, while getting screwed by pretty much everyone on the planet. It is also, as the movie takes pains to tell us at the very first opportunity, a true story.

Johnny Depp delivers yet another outstanding performance as our contraband-dealing hero and all-around nice guy, George Jung, a blank, clueless cipher with a broad Boston accent. Blow then proceeds to give us Jung's story in flashback, beginning with a brief intro to his dysfunctional blue collar family and then spending a lot of time detailing his move to California in the '60s, where a young, dashing George hangs out with an army of blond beach bunnies (stewardesses, all), soaks in an endless supply of good vibrations and starts peddling pot.

The second half of Blow chronicles George's transition from marijuana sales to big time coke dealer, a process that directly coincides with the cocaine phenomenon that exploded upon this country in the late '70s and early '80s. Films like Scarface and even Boogie Nights have covered this same territory to better effect, but Blow has a good time flaunting the excesses of the era. As with most movies that attempt to detail the exaggerated era of King Cocaine, Blow sometimes unavoidably verges on parody, but that's part of its charm and fun.

The movie is structured much like a run-in with hard drugs, with the first act coming off as a bright, euphoric rush, followed by a long, grueling come-down period that just never seems to end. The great tragedy of George Jung is not just his fall from innocence; it's that he never seems remotely aware of what's happening to him. Depp, for his part, manages to make his clueless character both utterly transparent and strangely magnetic, sort of like a human black hole. It's mostly Depp's performance, in fact, that lifts Blow above its rather routine script and competent but uninspired direction.

The greatest and scariest part of what Depp does here is to give George's pathos a palpable, almost physical dimension, especially as his character ages. It's a subtle but entirely bizarre process that culminates in a final glimpse of Jung, aged and still shagged-out, looking for all the world like some weird, old bag-lady or, stranger still, like an estrogen-saturated Richard Speck during his last days in prison. Now there's an image to haunt you for at least the rest of the week.

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