BLOW was based on Bruce Porter’s 1993 book “Blow: How a Small Town Boy Made $100 Million with the Medellín Cocaine Cartel and Lost It All.” That ought to be sufficient hint as to where the 2001 crime autobio will take you over its 124-minute run, directed by Ted Demme, starring Johnny Depp. Scripted by David McKenna and Nick Cassavetes (John’s son), the project was a somewhat odd labor of love for director Demme, charmed by the story’s then-incarcerated ‘hero’, drug smuggler George Jung. *
Working-class Boston boy George Jung (Depp) moves to Southern California in the mid-60s and finds a sunny, sexy paradise, which includes access to a supply of pot he can smuggle back to sell in New England. Money rolls in, but when George and his partners tap into the cocaine market in the mid-70s, it floods in, through a relationship with Colombian narco overlord Pablo Escobar. Jung’s lifestyle explodes into opulence and excess, and includes a dangerously wild Colombian wife (Penélope Cruz). Jail terms, violence and being a fugitive aren’t enough to stem his ambition—and the nation’s appetite for drugs seems endless. George is smart, and he knows better, but his trouble is that thinks he knows better than that. Betrayal looms.
Covering several decades and numerous locations, it’s an intriguing insider look at how the drug wave was engineered and the lifestyle it provided for some of the higher echelon perps. Hardly news, given all the drug-crime movies gone before, but it’s done with flair, smart pacing and propelled by superior casting. Depp has one of his best roles as the self-dooming Jung, aging convincingly via makeup, hair styles, costuming and his skill at relaying charm and cockiness, wariness and wastage, rue and resignation. His work here makes a solid companion piece to his vivid excursions into the likewise dark territory of Donnie Brasco and Black Mass. Cruz sizzles appropriately, a seductive packet of nitroglycerine primed to be dropped. A nice guy for a welcome change, Ray Liotta has a plum role as Jung’s ever-hopeful, deeply wounded father; the one really sympathetic character in the array. Playing George’s mother, Rachel Griffiths channels resentment and scorn (in reality she’s five years younger than Depp). Most striking is Jordi Mollà, as ‘Diego Delgado’—in real-life one Carlos Lehder Rivas—conduit to the Medellin Cartel and one of Jung’s ‘partners’ (until…). At 33, this was the superb Spanish actor’s US debut. Much more recognized in his homeland (actor/director/writer/artist), Mollà lights it up with intensity: he should have become a bigger star internationally.
The budget hit $53,000,000, the US gross came to just shy of that amount, foreign receipts bringing the total raked in up to $83,283,000. With Franka Potente, Paul Reubens, Ethan Suplee, Dan Ferro, Cliff Curtis (as Pablo Escobar), Miguel Sandoval, Max Perlich, Emma Roberts, Bobcat Goldthwait, Kevin Gage and Jaime King. Jung’s estranged daughter Kristina had a bit part, but it was cut from the film.
* Irony on—or up—the nose: only nine months after the film came out, Ted Demme, just 38, died of a heart attack while playing basketball. The coroner said it may have been brought on by the cocaine in his system. Meanwhile, nothing if not a survivor, Mr.Jung was released in 2014, one third of the way through his 60-year sentence. He violated his parole two years later. The fact that his ‘romantic’ drug-smuggling for Escobar & associates contributed to untold numbers of lives being disrupted or destroyed makes his two decades as a celebrity in the slam seem lenient.