It may be the summer doldrums, but we powered on, with Jake presenting Ted Demme‘s 2001 biopic Blow, covering the life of noted cocaine smuggler George Jung. Somewhat ironically, Blow was Demme’s final film before his death by heart attack at age 39 – a death that may have been related to cocaine found in his system during his autopsy.
As Jake noted in his public service announcement preceding the film: Don’t do drugs, kids!
But, without those drugs, we don’t have a movie. This man here is Johnny Depp. But Johnny Depp is portraying George Jung, the subject of Bruce Porter’s book “Blow. How a Small-Town Boy Made $100 Million With the Medellin Cocaine Cartel and Lost It All”. It’s hard to tell just how faithful the film is to the book (having not read the book) and given that Jung appears to be one of the major sources for the book, it’s hard to tell how faithful the book is to reality. One thing that is notable is that outside of perhaps carelessness (and the obvious “smuggling” thing), Jung never really does anything much “wrong” in the film. Most of his misfortunes are caused by other folks, with him never dealing anybody dirty in return. It’s a bit hard to believe that to be true, so I’ll just take the story with a grain of salt.
To be sure, Jung does start out as a small-town boy form Massachusetts who has moved out to Southern California, and finding that the weed out there was better then the stuff back home, got the idea to start making some money “moving plants across invisible lines”. He starts by having his flight attendant girlfriend move them in her suitcase (at that time flight attendants’ bags were unexamined, apparently).
Soon he has graduated from the small-time business he could get from his local source Peewee Herman, a flamboyantly gay hairdresser, and is flying planeloads of Mary Jane in from Mexico and filling VW buses with it to bring it cross country. Needless to say, he eventually gets caught with 660 pounds of the stuff and, unable to plausibly claim personal use, ends up facing two years in the joint. He’s ready to do his time, but his girlfriend conveniently gets terminal cancer, so instead of taking his knocks he jumps bail to hang with her until she kicks off. See, George wouldn’t have jumped bail if she hadn’t been sick, see? (From the small bit of reading I’ve done, I suspect that this character – outside of the flight attendant smuggling bit – may be completely fictional.)
Still, he has a weak spot for his parents, so George goes to visit – and his mom turns him in to the cops.
This time he really does go to prison, but true to form he doesn’t come out reformed and ready to make his way as a productive and law-abiding member of society – no, he meets criminals even more hardened than himself in prison (most notably a Colombian fellow here called Delgado) and comes out ready to start smuggling cocaine for the infamous Pablo Escobar. He stands between Escobar and his distributor in the States, Peewee. Honestly, it’s never quite explained how the hairdresser who apparently sold loose joints out of the back of his salon graduated to distributing tons of cocaine, but whatever.
Jung creates a bit of a stir by stealing away one of the top Colombians’ girlfriends in Penelope Cruz, but as a trusted smuggler, he’s worth too much to the operation to let something like a pretty girl get in the way of business. There are, one would presume, lots of pretty girls available to drug lords, and as we’ll learn later, this one is just a wee bit unstable anyhow.
Jung ends up getting metaphorically stabbed in the back by Delgado, who begins going around him to deal directly with Peewee Herman. Jung takes the noble but perhaps stupid step of confronting Delgado over this on Delgado’s private island in front of Delgado’s massive force of bodyguards and basically gets his ass kicked as a result.
No matter. Jung has all the money he could possibly ever spend anyway, so he goes clean for five years to focus on building a life with his family, notably the light of his life, his daughter Kristina Sunshine Jung. And what makes this comes crashing down? Penelope Cruz, who decides that after five years of being clean she really, really, really needs to throw Jung a drug orgy for his birthday. Needless to say, this party gets raided (one would guess that at this point the feds were watching Jung and patiently waiting for him to slip up) and Jung goes on the lam again. I don’t exactly remember what circumstances led the feds to grant bail to someone who had already skipped it once, but they did, and he jumps bail again. Only to have a hyper-emotional Cruz cause him to get pulled over a bit later and begin screaming to the cops that he’s a smuggler and has a kilo of coke in the trunk. Which he does.
Jung goes away for three years this time, meanwhile getting served with divorce papers from Cruz. When he gets out he tries to re-establish a relationship with his daughter and finally decides to do just one more smuggling deal to get the money to take Kristina and move to California.
Whoops! It’s a setup. Peewee and another former associate sold him out for immunity, and now he’s in prison for, like, a long time.
The movie ends pretty depressingly, with Jung apparently in a state of dementia in prison, continually imagining a reconciliation visit from his daughter that never happens. By the time the film was made, says the title card at the end, she has still not yet visited. The End.
As a bit of a postscriptum, Jung was apparently finally released in 2014, and it sounds as if he has met with, and there has been at least a bit of a move towards a reconciliation with his daughter. For whatever that’s worth.
Blow is a bit of an interesting film because it follows this Jungian path as he goes from the archetype of the scofflaw smuggler doing it all for the hookers and blow to the archetype of the cleaned-up criminal doing that one last deal get his family on its feet. Of course, it all feels a bit whitewashed. As I’ve said, Jung never does anybody dirty (OK, he steals a girlfriend, but she was a willing party in the whole thing) and most notably every misstep is chalked up to being somebody else’s fault. A buyer sets him up. His mom turns him in. His partner stabs him in the back. His wife throws a drug party for him. His wife flips out in front of the cops. His now ex-wife tries to keep his daughter away from him. His old partners set him up one last time. Heck, even his original bail jump is chalked up to somebody else’s cancer as if barring that he’d just have served his sentence and gone straight. This movie really acts as if it’s the cold harsh world against the drug smuggler with the heart of gold, and I guess I just have a hard time believing that the real story would have been quite so sympathetic to Jung. But it was a pretty good movie, for all that.