Johnny Depp is arguably one of American cinema's most underrated
actors. No matter what role he plays, he invests the character with such
force and determination that the he elevates even the mediocre of material
to something special. In the film Blow, he has been handed a complex,
multifaceted character and the actor more than rises to the challenge.
Indeed, his work is so good it only makes the audience overlook the central
nagging question of this biopic of drug dealer George Jung; that is, what
makes this man deserving of a movie biography?

        Jung holds a curious place in the annals of history; he was more or
less the man responsible for the trafficking of cocaine in the USA in the
early 1980s. Working closely with Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar,
Jung developed a cross-county distribution network for the drug that
originated with the glitterati and eventually trickled down to the common
man. By that point, though, Jung had been double-crossed and forced out
of the game by a former friend. In fact, betrayal by those close to him is
the overriding theme to his life and director Ted Demme and screenwriters
David McKenna and Nick Cassavetes mine the Judas-like behavior of those
close to Jung to create whatever dramatic tension there is in the story.

        Over the last 100 years, there have been numerous features about
unsavory characters (heck, Warner Bros. was practically built on the gangster
film). In spite of the attention to period detail and the strong cast,
BLOW falls far short of greatness. The filmmakers appear hard-pressed
to come up with a justification for telling this tale. Jung is hardly a
household name in the way that Al Capone or even John Gotti were.
From a historical perspective, he did wield enormous influence and literally
changed pop culture in the disco era. But does it make sense for the
industry first targeted by the man to be the guinea pigs for his social
experimentation -- and how many people in the entertainment industry
have struggled with, conquered and/or succumbed to cocaine addiction --
to raise this man's profile? Perhaps these are questions no one can answer.

BLOW strictly as a motion picture, it is a slightly above
average documentary-like portrait of a man who makes a series of
miscalculations. Jung narrates the film, and there's the obligatory scenes
of his early life with his harridan of a mother (a miscast Rachel Griffiths,
sporting one of the worst Massachusetts accents ever filmed) and his
saint-like father (an impressive Ray Liotta). He and his childhood pal
Tuna (Ethan Suplee) leave New England for Southern California where
they meet Barbara (Franke Potente), a stewardess and George's lover,
who in turn introduces them to the man who is to become their first
supplier, the composite figure called Derek Foreal (well-played by Paul

        Starting with marijuana, they create a cross-country network
smuggling drugs through Barbara's suitcases. Gradually, Jung begins
to dream of expansion and makes contact with a Mexican farmer
willing to supply him with all the marijuana he can sell. Before long,
they are rolling in money, but there success comes at a price. George
is caught and arrested while Barbara announces she has terminal cancer.
Once in prison, George hooks up with Diego Delgado (the charismatic
Jordi Mollà), and the pair make plans for when they are released. Diego
eventually introduces Jung to Escobar and the cocaine flows freely into
the USA. As he acquires wealth and power, George also marries the
tempestuous Mirtha (Penélope Cruz) and together they have a
daughter (Emma Roberts). The movie takes great pains to show just
how good a father George tried to be, but he ends up disappointing
the one person who means the most to him. (Jung's real-life daughter
has a cameo role in the film as a clerk.)

        Through it all, Jung has the great misfortune of placing his trust
in the wrong people. From his own mother who turns him in because
she cannot bear to have a fugitive for a son to his wife to those with
whom he does business. That's Jung's fatal flaw, and he ends up in
prison because of it. What makes the film eminently compelling is
Depp's superlative lead performance. I doubt another actor could
have carried off the part with the range and depth that he brings
to the part. Demme manages to evoke the changing eras through
keen production design and costumes, but there's an overall empty
feeling to the whole film. Just like the title substance, watching
induces a high but leaves you wanting after it's over.

Rating:                C
MPAA Rating:     R for pervasive drug content and language,
                                           some violence and sexuality
Running time:    124 mins.
© 2007 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.