Blow (2001) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

The backdrop of this film is the life of George Jung. According to legend, he almost single-handedly created the cocaine market in the United States in the 70's.

If you think it's going to be a drug movie, or an anti-drug movie, you're wrong. In the entire film, there is virtually no portrayal of the consequences of drug use, and there is not much time devoted to the consequences of drug dealing. The film is not really judgmental about George's career choice. To me, the real point of the film was the parallel between the lives of George Jung and his father. 

NUDITY REPORT

There is considerable incidental nudity from background players and extras, but none from the principals.

George's dad (Ray Liotta, playing a nice guy beautifully, as I knew he could), was a man with values. He was devoid of personal greed, he always forgave his shrewish wife and doted on his son (Johnny Depp, excellent as always). Ol' dad never cheated anyone, was loyal to his friends and family, and was constantly being taken advantage of by baser,  greedier people. He had a na´vetÚ which led to a lifetime of financial difficulties, because in the cutthroat business world, his integrity was considered a fatal weakness by his unscrupulous friends. He build up a solid little business with several trucks and several employees, but he lost it all. When he hit bottom, he told his son that it wasn't that important, that money wasn't what counted. His wife saw his failure another way, and berated him constantly in front of the boy.

George, the future cocaine kingpin, grew up in a different world, but ended up with a life almost identical to his dad's, just on a different scale. Once, in his naive youth, after a dinner with his parents, George and his first love had resolved never to end up like like the older couple they had just dined with. Sadly and ironically, George lost the girl (Lola Rennt's Franka Potente, speaking almost perfectly unaccented English) to cancer, then ended up reliving his father's life on a grander scale. George, too, was honest in his dealings, was never greedy, never broke a promise, shared his good times with the people he cared for, and rewarded anyone who did something nice for him. Like his dad, he was considered a naive babe in the woods by a string of unprincipled hard guys who gradually took more and more of his pie. Just like his dad, he built a nice little empire, then lost almost everything. When he hit rock bottom, there was a scene precisely parallel to an earlier one with his parents, in which George's wife berated him in front of their child for his lack of earning power. When George went down, he insisted that the feds get his ungrateful wife and daughter to safety, just as his own father had always forgiven his ungrateful mother. 

An evocative element of the movie, at least for us aging boomers, was the uncomfortable transition of the drug market's money-maker from marijuana to cocaine in the 70s, which necessitated that George deal with gun-toting Colombians instead of peaceful hippies and small farmers. George looked back on the hippie marijuana days as the idyllic part of his life, filled with songfests on the beach, laid-back friends, and good vibes. I guess you probably know that most of us who lived through the 60's and 70's see it the same way. Marijuana represented our youth, sweet times, mellow vibes. It was associated with peace and love and music. Cocaine represented everything that went wrong after the movement died: greed, violence, edginess, material possessions, egocentrism. Watching George's transition in the film brought back a lot of forgotten memories for me.

Paul Rubens! Is it a really good episode of Pee-Wee's Playhouse?

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 2.35:1

  • Full-length director commentary. accompanied by George Jung

  • four featurettes including interviews with the real George Jung

  • deleted scenes and outtakes

  • trailers, tv ads, and a music video

George was ultimately betrayed by everyone he ever trusted, but you should not be deceived into thinking this was some sort of behavior endemic to the cocaine business. Business is business. It's just that in that particular business, the stakes are higher than in just about any other business, and that factor magnifies the greed. Furthermore, that particular business is illegal, so it attracts people who are comfortable outside the law, and that factor magnifies the danger. George's product thus made his business more dangerous and more cutthroat than his dad's, but aside from the nature of his product, George was just another failed small-time entrepreneur like his dad. And like his dad, he knew that wasn't really important.

He knew that his real failure was with his own daughter. George's dad had been a success in one sense: he managed to transmit a certain set of values to his son, and the two of them developed a genuine bond and respect. George was not able to establish this level of contact with his own child. George's daughter never did make peace with him, and has to this date never visited him in prison.

He still has another 14 years of incarceration before he is set free.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: about three stars. Ebert 2.5/4, Berardinelli 3.5/4, Apollo 69/100.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 7.1, Apollo users 70/100 
  • With their dollars ... it grossed a very solid $52 million dollars, compared to a budget of $30 million

IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C+ or B-. I liked it, but I suppose many people will not really take to this story of an ethical drug smuggler. On the other hand, the DVD is an A. If the story appeals to you at all, the DVD treatment couldn't be much better. In addition to the deleted material and featurettes, this biopic features commentary by the director and the real-life subject of the biography!

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