BLOW / (2001) **** (out of four)
By Blake French:
I don't think George Jung was a corrupt, sleazy drug smuggler, but, more or less, a young businessman making money to support his family and wild lifestyle. That is what makes Ted Demme's "Blow" different from other drug movies-it does not portray its characters as addicted lowlifes, but as recklessly successful, high powered individuals who simply want to live the American dream. The film is based on the true story of George Jung, whose image went from the average Joe next door, a high-school football star from a small Massachusetts town, to the world's premiere importer of cocaine from Colombia's Medellin cartel, who once supplied the States with over 85% of the total amount of imported cocaine in the 1970's and 80's. "Blow" is one of the best movies of the year.
"Blow" covers a wide range of generations and locations, ranging from the turbulent 60's to the haze of the 80's, and from such areas of the North America like Massachusetts, Florida, Colombia, California, Mexico, New York and Illinois. The time and location span provided the filmmakers with a challenge. The film was shot in a variety of locations in Southern California and in Mexico. "It was a difficult film to schedule and shoot because it had so many different time periods. And since it was the story of a man's life, every scene was fairly brief which meant an incredible number of scenes to be shot," explains executive producer Georgia Kacandes.
Covering so many years in a single film also tests the ability of the film's costume designers and makeup artists. The wardrobes, makeup and hair styles appear authentic and impressive. This movie pays close attention to even some of the most minute of details.
George Jung's motives for pursuing drugs may have been triggered by his family life as a child. His father was a nobody construction worker who often struggled with money and his marriage. In the film, Ray Liotta plays George's poor but content father, with the versatile Rachel Griffiths as his bitter, unhappy mother. George vows to never live his life in poverty, no matter what.
He moves to California as a young adult where selling marijuana supports his independent lifestyle. Paul Reubens and Ethan Suplee play George's drug-dealing comrades. Eventually, the authorities send him to prison for a while, where he meets Diego Delgado (Jordi Molla). An insider in Colombia's rising drug trade, this man educates George about the profits of selling cocaine. After serving his time, Jung becomes partners with Pablo Escobar (Cliff Curtis), the billionaire godfather of international cocaine trafficking.
"Blow" displays a consistent and detailed portrait of the spectacular rise, and dramatic fall, of Jung and his travel towards turning powder cocaine into American's biggest drug problem. Ted Demme's direction is vivid, determined, and stylish. He reportedly conducted many interviews with the real life George Jung, as he makes very clear the early high life, and the dangerous reality of a drug smuggler's everyday lifestyle. Demme is careful to stay away from frequent potential distractions, like the drug use, side characters, family issues, and romantic interests. This is a vivid narrative of a very interesting character. It does display a message about drugs that we have seen before, but never in this stylishly innovative light.
Laced with amusing detail and probing awareness, "Blow" defies the usual road of drug movies and provides us with tension and interest from Jung's many experiences-risky border crossings, ferocious consultation, unexpected deception, the persistence of the authorities, and unconquerable temptations. But untimely the film shows the true tragedy of losing your dreams to greed and drugs.
Johnny Depp proves once again what a triumphant, adaptable actor he can be. He portrays George Jung with the perfect amount of greed, style, confusion, pride, and desperation. The real George Jung is in a prison cell in New York. Without possibility of parole, Jung's release date is scheduled for 2015. Depp acknowledged the responsibility that comes with dramatizing a true individual, but also the responsibility of the director. "I knew Ted was committed to the film, but I didn't understand how deeply committed he was to the real George."
"Blow" becomes one of the most intriguing movies of 2001, but it even suffers in comparison to the incomprehensible achievement director Darren Aronofsky accomplished last year with his disturbingly real display of the downward spiral of four drug addicts in "Requiem for a Dream." That film gave us a cinematic taste of what drug addicts experience through their addictions and depravity. "Blow" still shines a fresh new light on drugs in movies, and perceptively portrays the story of a person from whom many can learn.