From the moment that the word “BLOW” scrolls onto the screen in the opening title sequence and the crunching chords of “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” by the Rolling Stones starts blaring – it’s clear that director Ted Demme is going for blood.
Demme’s blatant homage to Martin Scorcese, who used the Stones so brilliantly in such films as Meanstreets and Goodfellas, weaves through Blow in not only the music, but in the filming style as well. He segues effortlessly from one decade to the next.
More importantly, he makes the drug culture appear exciting and enticing – yet heartbreaking and destructive at the same time – recalling the director who let us know that Billy Batts was a “little bit” disrespectful to Joe Pesci.
This time the star of the drug epic is the always omnipotent Johnny Depp, who picks up the mounds of coke Al Pacino left out in Scarface, only to run off with what could be his best performance since, well…ever.
Depp plays the part of George Jung, who, while wanting to turn out nothing like his beaten-down father (played by a subdued yet undeniably intense Ray Liotta) becomes the liaison between the United States and the Colombian drug cartel.
Following in the path of the critically acclaimed features Beautiful Girls and Monument Ave., Demme this time. expounds upon the life of yet another small town boy seeking to exonerate himself from the emptiness of the trappings of what has left his peers and family vacant.
“I tend to sort of gravitate towards where I’m from,” he says of the propensity to focus on the existence of those who spend their life “trying to get out.”
“As unbelievable as it seems,” says director Demme of the true story, “The movie is pretty much the way it happened.”
The “way it happened” is based on the 1993 book by Bruce Porter, Blow: How a Smalltown Boy Made $100 Million With the Medellin Cocaine Cartel and Lost It All, which details the rise and inevitable fall of Jung.
In the film, after a stroke of Paul Reubens-induced luck (Pee-Wee strikes big-time), Jung moves a college beachfront pot-dealing hobby into a full blown coast to coast enterprise.
Disenchanted and busted while reaping the residuals of the marijuana movement, Jung encounters a man who introduces him to the notorious Colombian drug czar Pablo Escobar. The two become responsible for bringing the majority of the cocaine of the 80s into the United States.
“85 percent of the coke that came into the U.S. in the 80s came through George Jung,” says Demme. “There are no two ways about it…we had FBI agents as consultants on the film tell us.”
As staggering as the statistics may be, they are nothing in comparison to the way in which Depp and Demme manage to document the life of the still imprisoned Jung.
Current Hollywood it-girl Penelope Cruz, playing Jung’s wife Mirtha, brazenly stands tall as Depp’s Jung undergoes the third degree from law-enforcement many times over until the lavish lifestyle and partying become even too much for her.
Her resulting breakdown and Jung’s ultimate fade equate what solidly resonates as the best movie this side of millenium when it comes bonging and sniffing.
The moral of the story?
“Look,” says Demme laughing, ” Let’s be honest. The war on drugs is failing. If tequila is legal – pot should be legal.”
Michael Christopher can be reached at email@example.com