The late director Ted Demme’s final film turned out to be his best. It was a spectacular work of crime cinema based on the true story of George Jung, an infamous cocaine smuggler who rose to prominence in the 1970s and 80s.
We are introduced to George in his childhood years growing up in Weymouth, Massachusetts. The small New England town experience is filmed in a delicious penny candy technicolor. George’s father Fred (Ray Liotta) is a hard worker but never seems to have much money and his bitchy, squawking mother (Rachel Griffiths) doesn’t help the situation much. It’s in these early days of seeing his parents barely getting by and dealing with the stress of financial woes that George vows he’ll never be poor when he grows up.
He could’ve easily been a corporate business prodigy but the young, free wheeling George instead was part of the burgeoning hippie scene of the 60s. While living in Southern California with his buddy Tuna (Ethan Suplee), George starts to sell crappy pot on the beach to the kids for some extra cash. As time passes, George decides he doesn’t want to nickel and dime it anymore and takes the next step: working for a local supplier. He is soon introduced by his girlfriend to Derek Foreal (Paul Reubens) a hairdresser who makes money with pot on the side. Derek gives George and Tuna their first big bag o’ weed to sell and they do it easily with no problems.
George is a natural salesman but is also very ambitious. What begins as a little operation selling weed on the Southern California beaches leads him to taking cross country excursions to Massachusetts, where an abundance of colleges in a small area are chock full of pot smoking teens willing to pay through the nose. As the piles of cash grow, so does George’s vision of what this venture could become with the right concept in place. It inspires him to bypass the middlemen like Derek and go directly to the source: the pot growers in Mexico.
After a few years living high and mighty through his Mexican marijuana connections who turn his business into a booming success, George is busted with a large amount of marijuana in Chicago and sent to jail. To make things even worse, his girlfriend tells him she doesn’t have long to live due to cancer, which breaks his heart. While in prison, George meets someone who will change his life forever: Diego (Jordi Molla) his South American cellmate who is a goofy guy that talks alot but turns out to actually hold the key to unlock a dream they both share.
When he is released from prison, George visits Diego in Medallin, South America where he learns more about a different kind of drug: cocaine. After a kind of probationary period to make sure he is trustworthy, Diego finally takes George to meet the most feared crime kingpin in South America: Pablo Escobar (Cliff Curtis). When George is introduced to “El Patron”, it’s right after he witnesses him kill a man, so of course he is very scared but with his cool personality and honest attitude, Escobar takes a liking to George and they get to know each other better. Seeing George is a solid investment Escobar gives him and Diego the go ahead after which the two begin a drug smuggling business that supplied 90% of the white stuff that was consumed in the USA during the 70s/80s.
Since George is Pablo Escobar’s main connection to bring coke to the United States he is all but untouchable to those who might do him harm. When he meets the beautiful Mirtha (Penelope Cruz) at Diego’s wedding, it is love at first sight. It doesn’t even matter that she is the girlfriend of one of Escobar’s underlings who doesn’t like him, he wants her and gets her with no reprisals and soon the two start a relationship.
As with most tales of criminals operating outside the law, the established boundaries and addictions get bigger and bigger until friends turn on friends and the paradise found becomes a hell on earth. George has it all but over time betrayals from inside his circle of friends and the wild lifestyle they are leading slowly spins out of control, crumbles and blows away like white dust in the wind.
Ted Demme’s visual storytelling style is at its apex here as he employs all kinds of eye pleasing cinematic techniques to tell this epic tale of highs and lows throughout Jung’s rollercoaster of a life. From his 60s student documentary style snap zooms, to his swooshing steadicam flourishes to convey the headrush of being high on coke, it’s a magnificent looking film that coincides with the extreme decadence of the subject matter.
Blow recalls such crime classics as Scarface and GoodFellas in spirit but unlike those there’s next to no violence. Demme is intent on showing the lifestyle George and his cohorts led was never about anything except getting rich and experiencing as many highs in life as they could. Sadly, it was an exercise in futility that put Jung in jail and ruined the relationship he had with his daughter. Jung is currently still incarcerated.