Over break I had the chance to catch a sneak preview of the upcoming film Blow by director Ted Demme whom I later spoke with about the film. In the past, director Ted Demme has chosen to direct scripts about small town guys with small town problems. Suprisingly, Blow, the film based on a true story of international drug trade, is no exception. The film follows the rise and fall of George Jung (Johnny Depp), a cocaine smuggler in the 1970s. Before his infamy, Jung was an average kid from the neighborhood who seemed to be pursuing the American Dream, only it was according to his own rules.
The film is narrated in the first person by George and begins with scenes that illustrate the effect that George’s father’s (Ray Liotta) financial struggles have on him. After holding down two jobs and working practically all week, his father is still too poor to avoid his wife’s (Rachel Griffiths) constant complaints and eventual bankruptcy. An impressionable George decides then and there that he will never be poor. George relocates to the West Coast, and becomes a pot dealer whose success seemingly builds upon itself. However, George is soon caught and imprisoned. While in jail, George learns about cocaine smuggling from his cellmate, Diego (Jordi Molla). He and Diego create an extremely profitable business and at one point have no space in an entire house to store all of their cash. Soon George partners with Columbian drug chief Pablo Escobar. At the high point in his career, George lives in a mansion, has parties where cocaine is passed around like hors d’oeuvres, and marries the beautiful Mirtha (Penelope Cruz). However, all this proves too good to be true, as George has difficultly avoiding legal trouble. Monetarily set for life and in danger of being imprisoned again, George decides to retire. The birth of his daughter transforms his life becoming his highest priority. Blow would have a sweet ending if it ended there, but of course there are many more twists and turns to this plot, and as we all know, criminals rarely triumph in Hollywood.
George Jung’s remarkable life has an arc paralleled by few. Yet, the grand scheme of the film does not make this a “message movie.” Ted Demme was careful to keep the implications of the film ambiguous, seeking a more exciting viewing experience. Similarly, George Jung himself is quite a controversial character. Johnny Depp’s acting expertise is fully utilized in the role, delivering a fully nuanced performance. The details, from 1970s costumes to Massachusetts accents, are what fill the movie when character development can seem weak. However, this shortage of mature characters can be excused because of the epic trajectory of the film. Paul Reubens (of Pee Wee Herman fame) Franka Potente (Run Lola Run), Penelope Cruz and Cliff Curtis all have minor parts in the film, but are scene stealers. The international cast was a conscious choice and resulted in part from the director’s admiration for old and new international films. The director’s hand in the process of the film can also be seen in the interesting cinematography and close attention to shot composition in sequences filmed in Cinemascope film stock. Demme saw Blow as a chance to “stretch [his] legs artistically” and experiment, a feature of the film which is easily recognized.
Blow can be experienced as a movie about drug smuggling and the fast paced life that accompanies it, but it is also a commentary on American society and American families. While Demme sees the war against drugs as “a miserable failure,” he also sees American families failing to raise responsible children. In conversations with the real George Jung, Demme found that Jung was most upset when talking about his parents and their unhappy marriage. Regardless of how hard he fought to be the opposite of his parents, by earning so much money and living an adrenaline-fueled life, Jung ended up infinitely worse off.
Blow is ambitious. The tale of George Jung’s life is so interesting and fast paced that one can overlook the minor details in favor of enjoying the large scale of the film. Blow takes an original look at the drug trade by examining one man’s influence and how he changed America forever…
Archived article by Diana Lind