Spoiler Warning

Always assume Spoilers and possible profanity in context. These are often adult themed movies.

Monday, September 13, 2010


Blow is a movie based on the true story of George Jung, the major American figure in making Cocaine popular in the United States in the 1970's. How faithful it is to the truth, I don't know. Like many stories it's a very simple one, a kid so determined to avoid becoming his father, that he ends up becoming worse.

We start with childhood, George witnesses his mother and father constantly fighting over money. His mother often leaves and returns not happy with the meager living that Fred (Ray Liotta) provides. Although Fred tells his son that money doesn't really mean anything, George only sees how miserable his parents have been for not having it. More than anything else in the world, George doesn't want to be poor.

George and his lifelong friend Tuna (Ethan Suplee) move to California as adults and quickly discover that they can make plenty of money and avoid working real jobs by selling Marijuana. George's girlfriend Barbara (Franka Potente) knows a pot dealer, Derek Foreal (Paul Reubens) and introduces George to him. George, having a good business sense quickly starts making money. When his friend Kevin Dulli (Max Perlich) mentions an enormous demand in the New England college scene, George sees an opportunity and becomes partners with Derek. He arranges for Barbara to use her stewardess job to get the drugs to Kevin in New England. Then, unhappy with what he's paying for the pot, he decides to find a direct source in Mexico. He eventually makes a connection but gets caught trying to bring 660 lbs. of marijuana into the states. George is already more concerned with making money than avoiding legal problems, and shows no respect at all to the court, quoting bob Dylan lyrics as a defense. He gets sentenced to jail time, but skips out on bail and on discovering that Barbara doesn't plan to be alive for two years due to cancer. George spends his time to taking care of her and loses touch with the gang.

George goes to see his parents in Massachusetts and while he talks with his father, who says he isn't mad, but doesn't understand George's choices. George brags. 'i'm really great at what I do." and his father responds "You would've been great at anything." His mother calls the cops who quickly arrive and arrest him. Fred is angry with her for turning in their son, but she is more worried about how people think of her. This time George ends up serving his prison time. He makes connections during his two year sentence, most notably Diego Delgado (Jordi Molla), who knows people growing cocaine in Colombia. As soon as he's paroled, George, meets Diego in Colombia and they start doing business with Cesar Rosa. They build the business substantially, soon adding their own private flights to move larger quantities. Diego gets arrested in Colombia, leaving George on his own to sell 50 kilos in 36 hours and deliver payment. Turning to Derek, his old partner, for help he succeeds, and as a reward, gets taken to Colombia.On arrival, he finds Diego waiting, having been sprung from jail due to "influence." George is taken to meet Pablo Escobar, who takes a liking to him and agrees to go into business with George and Diego. They become a huge success virtually owning the entire West Coast cocaine market.

George ends up marrying a Colombian woman named Mirtha (Penelope Cruz) They buy a nice house and Mirtha gets pregnant and meets George's parents.Diego however, resents that George hasn't revealed his West Coast connection (Derek) Diego uses Derek to set up his own operation, cutting George out. He confronts Diego about it, who confirms the betrayal, has him beaten and sent home. George decides to leave the business. His resolve is strengthened by his daughter Kristina's birth which radically affects his outlook and an overdose which hits him in the delivery room. He stays clean for years but gets arrested at a birthday party Mirtha throws for him, inviting many of his former drug associates. He signs a confession to get his wife and daughter released and post bail, deciding to skip bail again. He discovers that the Panamanian government has taken the millions he keeps in the Panamanian banks, causing a family scene over money similar to the ones he witnessed as a child. Mirtha causes a scene while he's driving which leads to his capture. She then visits him in prison and informs him that she's divorcing him and taking Kristina.

 He gets out after three years and tries to rebuild his relationship with his daughter, who is angry with him for leaving. He takes up the practice of walking with her to and from school. He talks with Mirtha about seeing more of Kristina, but she won't consider anything unless he starts paying child support, although she does start to relent. He decides to do another job to make enough money to bring Kristina to California with him (the place she would most like to go in the world) He's surprised to find his old friend Dulli in the crew. After they pull off the job, he announces it's his last time, only to discover that the job was a set up involving the FBI, DEA, with his old friends Dulli and Derek cooperating.He gets sentenced to 60 years in prison and leaves his daughter waiting for him to pick her up for their trip. He hears his father is dying and although he can't see him, he makes a tape recording telling his Dad that he finally understands what he meant by "money isn't real."

George, now an old man,  imagines that his daughter, now an adult has come to visit him an prison. He starts to have a conversation with her when a guard calls and realizes that she isn't really there.


Blow is an interesting movie, in that we watch Jung's bad decisions happen as the character narrates events as sympathetically as possible. While it deals with George's rise and fall through the drug trade, it's a very different movie than say Scarface or Goodfellas. George doesn't see himself as a gangster but as a businessman, betrayed and threatened with force, he doesn't retaliate but bows out. We see only the most basic facts, such as his mother and father bickering over money, but not anything so dramatic that would explain his drive. We see bickering but we don't see poverty. Even when his father is broke, they don't appear to go without anything. George worships his father, pities him and only understands his message that money isn't everything when he land himself in a situation, prison, where money really doesn't mean anything. Ted Demme plays everything very understated, as if intentionally making this world more mundane than any druglord movie before it.

Johnny Depp gives a great performance here, playing George perfectly suited to the narration as a man who only shows the surface. He tells us about his losses and his accomplishments but he typically shows the same face throughout, not being too moved by either end of the spectrum. The major actions happen off screen, whether selling 50 kilograms of cocaine in 36 hours or taking care of his terminally ill girlfriend. There's a depth to the character that's implied but never shown, as if the whole film is his carefully constructed public face. Ray Liotta is perhaps the most complex character here as his father Fred, overlooking the lifestyle that he's aware of and doesn't approve of because he loves his son and realizes he makes his own decisions anyway. He seems to know he can't reach George, but never stops trying. The bond between the two is undeniably strong. Penelope Cruz gives a great portrayal of Mirtha, the woman he marries out of excitement, only to turn into a mirror of his mother. She puts him (or he does) in the same seat that his father was in, despising him when he can't deliver the life he promised. Of all the characters, Mirtha is the only one who shows the most development, trading in a life of excess and excitement for the life of a responsible single mother. We understand why she limits George's time with his daughter, and his behavior confirms her reasons.

While he never directly avoids taking personal responsibility for his crimes, his matter of fact presentation of them, treats being the largest American cocaine dealer in the country as an alternative career. rather than a criminal enterprise. By George's reasoning, he only seized a logical opportunity. While he understands that prison time is a job hazard, he also sees fleeing while on bail a reasonable solution.  We end up with a self portrait of a man who believes life doesn't have to treat you fairly, starting with his early money concerns, knowing that his father is a hard worker who simply can't seem to make money, continuing to the loss of his girlfriend Barbara, whom he loses to cancer, his betrayal by his trusted partners Diego and Derrick, to the loss of his daughter's affection.

George has no desire to be a gangster, he really wants to be a businessman. The one instance where he attempts to be intimidating is almost laughable, putting an empty gun to Diego's head, which doesn't faze Diego in the slightest. The drugs sold in the movie are treated as almost incidental, and if not for the fact that they earn him his prison time, they may as well be plumbing supplies. "Blow" is not an in depth look at the cost of the drug problem, just a cursory look at the life of one of the key players. If it hadn't been him, it could have been someone else. George just happened to have the drive to make it happen when he ran into the right people. The message seems to be that this is something that could almost happen to anyone who had the motivation. He didn't have to kill anyone, or pass an initiation, he just had to keep selling coke. He wasn't special, when Diego cuts him out, no one bats an eye, because ultimately the only concern is profit.

George's main defect is that he never takes a stand on anything, always choosing the path of least resistance. That's the attitude which starts his drug career. The marijuana dealing practically falls into his lap and it's an easier way to make money than working a regular job. The move up to cocaine, similarly is practically given to him by his cellmate at the time, Diego, and when it's taken away he barely struggles with the decision. For all his talk about how drastically his life was changed by his daughter's birth, we don't see any evidence of this, just a continuation of the same pattern he's always followed. He wants his daughter to love him in the way that his father loved him, unconditionally, but she only knows what she learned from her own parents, which is to always be skeptical and expect a promise to be broken.

The real story is a man on a quest to be better, and end up better off than his father, only to prove that he wasn't capable of either. What he admired in his father, (hard work, and reliance on his own judgement) are the things he sacrifices to make his money, substituting risk taking and creativity. For his father money was never the goal, happiness was, he realized that having the money wasn't as important as where he got it, even though it made his life miserable at times he took the high lows in stride. George succeeded only in having higher highs and lower lows, ultimately low enough that he couldn't come back from them. He claims to have learned this lesson, once stuck with over 60 years in prison, but you have to wonder, did he really learn or is it just that he had no choice?


Widow_Lady302 said...

I remember watching this movie and thinking...Oh my god...what a horrible example of women. The terminally ill girlfriend is the least deplorable, but each woman in the flick is a nightmare of behavior.

Loved Liotta, couldn't understand Depp's character...he was insane doing the samething over and over and expecting different results.

Great review as always!

INDBrent said...

Yep. I'd agree. Seen from George's perspective, yeah women don't come off looking great in general, but I don't think they men looked good either, but the women were more "stereotypically" challenged. Liotta was very good as the only person whith any real character, but Depp had an interesting role in that he had to build his character who had some really flawed reasoning which makes it difficulty to find the least bit of sympathy for him.

Joe said...

This is one of my favorite movies and its just real life stuff that happens. People try to sell drugs to make a better life for their family even though that wasn't Georges case in every situation. But on the last deal it was the case since he was just trying to get enough money to get out of town with his daughter.I felt bad for George and sometimes things just dont go the way you plan.

INDBrent said...

Hey Joe, yes it is presented as just real stuff that happens. You do feel bad about his daughter but at the same time you know he's headed for trouble when he takes the last job.

Ligie said...

Fantastic! We've Haiku'd you on this one. I admit though - I was drooling over P. Cruz for all of her screen time. :)

INDBrent said...

Good deal! I can't wait to read it! Lol, yes Penelope sure made her presence known!

Anonymous said...

I thing Depp's acting in this one is great. It's one of those bad guys that you want him to come to victory, after all the bad things that have happen to him. I mean, at the end, you sympathize with George. Ray Liotta was also great, but since I have a serious crush at Penelope, I give her my thumbs up. Can't wait to see how Cruz and Depp act together on screen again on the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean