Blow (2001) features Johnny Depp as George Jung, a hustler and drug dealer who ultimately became responsible for most of the cocaine flowing into America in the late ’70s and early ’80s from Columbia.
The film boasts a great cast with Ray Liotta and Rachel Griffiths as George’s parents, Franka Potente and Penlope Cruz as his love interests, and Paul Ruebens and Jordi Mollà as his drug dealing partners to name but a few of the players.
TRIVIA Even though they were cast as George’s parents, Ray Liotta is only 9 years older than Johnny Depp while Rachel Griffiths is actually 5 years younger than Depp.
The story is told from George’s point-of-view and we quickly learn that he doesn’t want to live the boom and bust cycle that his father, Fred, lived during the 50s. Fred explains his life philosophy to a young George as “Sometimes you’re flush and sometimes you’re bust, and when you’re up, it’s never as good as it seems, and when you’re down, you never think you’ll be up again, but life goes on.” For George this isn’t good enough and that he’s driven to succeed where his father failed.
A young 20-something George and his best friend Tuna (Ethan Suplee) migrate to California in the late 60s intent on putting distance between him and his middle-class up bringing and to live the easy life of a beach bum. It’s there that George gets a taste for imported weed and soon hits upon a scheme to become drug dealers and middle men.
The business quickly grows exponentially and “Boston George” is soon transporting drugs from the West Coast back to Boston via his stewardess girlfriend. While doing time for transporting drugs across state lines he encounters Diego Delgado (Jordi Mollà) a car thief with important Columbian connections. It’s through Diego that eventually meets Medellín Cartel kingpin Pablo Escobar, who entrusts George and Diego to begin transporting cocaine to the US for distribution.
Once George’s rise to fame in the drug world reaches it climax, the tables begin to turn. The once shiny life of a drug dealer begins to sour as everyone he once loved turns against him.
Depp brings to George the prerequisite amount of swagger and confidence benefiting a hustler of George’s nature and Depp immerses himself in the role as only he can. Ray Liotta and Rachel Griffiths almost match Depp with their ability to age with the characters of George’s parents and only being minimally affected by George’s bullshit and lies. During this re-watch of Blow I found myself imagining George’s story told solely from his parent’s perspective and what a different and interesting story that would be.
As with all films “based on a true story” you have to wonder how much liberty was taken with the facts for dramatic purposes. More so in this case since the source material is based on George Jung’s autobiography and he tends to paint himself in a favourable light compared to some of the other characters. As George’s world collapses and he becomes increasingly disillusioned with the life he’s built for himself, he tends to paint himself as the innocent, injured party and all his ills are caused by others.
I enjoyed Depp’s performance in this film. His ability to get inside the head of the character and embody that person while he is on the screen is something to behold. For the role of George Jung, Depp reportedly met with him in prison and interviewed him. Below is a quote from Depp that highlights his process of understanding the character’s he portrays.
“George Jung is a lot of things. He’s a complicated guy. But first and foremost – what I was really happy to find out – was he is just as human as can be. There is no evil. There is no malice in him. He’s not greedy. He’s just a good man who recognized his mistakes and has to live with his sort of devastation every day. I saw a strong guy when I met him. He’s very strong, kind of ironic, funny, broken man. My opinion is that George Jung has served his time and paid his debt to society. He’s not doing anyone any good rotting away in a prison cell. The guy is rehabilitated. And I’m not sure the system rehabilitated him. I think he rehabilitated himself based on the hideous thoughts he’s had to live with and realities he has had to deal with. I think he has paid his debt to society. I think he could do much more good on the outside. He’s doing work with the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program right now. He could, potentially, go on the road with DARE and teach kids the dangers of drugs. And he could also pay his debt to his daughter and try to give her a father.”
–Johnny Depp (Reel.com)
While Blow is a solid film with great visuals, storytelling and compelling acting, I found I was more critical of it on this re-watch. I found the veneer of false nostalgia wore on me more this outing than the first time I saw it. Compare it to a similar period piece like Donnie Brasco, where the time period seems ingrained in the characters and the story whereas in Blow I felt it was more for show. That the choice of wardrobe, set dressing, cars, and especially music were all done with careful deliberation to illicit the most nostalgia out of the audience whether or not they have any first hand experience with the given time periods. The other thing that bothered me more on this outing was the selling of George’s story as some corrupt version of the American Dream. George’s story never feels like a cautionary tale to me (whether it should or not is another debate). The first 2/3 of the movie feels like the director wants us to cheer for George as the underdog and the guy who’s exploiting the system and making good. The final 1/3 of the film film feels like its George’s “woe is me” tale where he rages against the injustices of the system and the harshness he is treated with by his friends and family. While I am not expecting Blow to be some documentary on the horrors of the drug trade in America while, all I am saying is that I was more critical of the glossing over of such issues this time.