Ah, the late '70s/early '80s: mountains of cocaine, immorality and dangerous gunplay. But enough about George Dubya Bush. Blow is a biopic about George Jung, who rose to become Colombia drug lord Pablo Escobar's main man in the U.S. during that wild time when disco ruled, everyone had the sniffles, and credit cards had a purpose beyond driving you deeper into debt.
If you've had your doubts about Johnny Depp—after Sleepy Hollow, The Astronaut's Wife and The Ninth Gate, who wouldn't?—prepare yourself for the performance of his career as Jung. Sure, the Boston accent sometimes bugs (especially when he says "staaaaahs" instead of "stars"), and the makeup used to make him appear several decades older is unintentionally funny (until a photo of the real Jung flashes on the screen just before the end credits—yikes!). But aided by Ted Demme's epic direction, Ellen Kuras' absorbing cinematography, and David McKenna and Nick Casavettes' smart script, Depp manages a tour de force, making you care about a scumbag rotting in prison until 2015 by boldly shading him with honor and humanity.
Based on Bruce Porter's book Blow: How a Small-Town Boy Made $100 Million with the Medellin Cocaine Cartel and Lost It All, the film starts with an almost dreamlike flashback to Jung's childhood in a small New England town. As a boy, George was the most important thing in the life of his father, Fred (played tenderly by Ray Liotta in what seems to be a symbolic passing of the torch from his own drug-cinema masterpiece, GoodFellas). But whenever times are tough for Fred, George's cold-hearted mom, Ermine (Rachel Griffiths), temporarily leaves the family. An upbringing informed with mixed messages of love and loathing, in which money is seen as the only thing that brings happiness, doesn't excuse Jung's later behavior, but it sure explains it.
As a young man, Jung moves to Malibu and falls into dealing pot near the tail end of the hippie generation, a time presented almost too sweetly through a bongload of stoner humor. He hooks up with local hairdresser/drug dealer Derek Foreal (Paul Reubens, who obviously relishes coming out—and I mean out!—of Pee-wee's Playhouse). Jung soon realizes his new "family" is being "middled" out of bigger profits, so he arranges to get pot directly from Mexican growers and to make a killing at the numerous colleges that surround his hometown.
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Life seems grand until Jung loses his girlfriend and his freedom. He goes to prison, which is more like a crime school. "I went in with a bachelor's in marijuana," he says, "and left with a doctorate in cocaine."
Jung and his slimy Colombian cellmate, Diego (Jordi Molla), walk out of prison and into the coke trade. They partner with Escobar (a chilling Cliff Curtis), a decision that dramatically increases their incomes, addictions and liabilities. "We invented the marketplace," Jung says. "In fact, if you did any coke in the '80s, there's an 85 percent chance it came from us."
He becomes a multimillionaire and marries Colombian temptress Mirtha (a smoldering Penelope Cruz). He's later cut out of the biz, but he doesn't care—he's got a newborn daughter. As if you couldn't see this one coming from across the coke mirror, George assumes the role of his own doting father while whacked-out Mirtha becomes a bitch from hell like Ermine. The distance these women put between Jung and the two most important people in his life (his father and daughter) is heartbreaking. It's to Depp's credit that when he says, "Everyone I love in my life goes away," you can't help but feel for an obviously flawed man.
Blow was directed by Ted Demme; written by David McKenna and Nick Casavettes; produced by Demme, Joel Stillerman and Denis Leary; and stars Johnny Depp, Jordi Molla, Penelope Cruz, Paul Reubens, Ray Liotta and Rachel Griffiths. Now playing countywide.