Mandatory Rewind: 20 Years of an Americano With Balls in ‘Blow’ (Arguably Depp’s Best)
Twenty years ago, a bleached-blonde Johnny Depp strutted his stuff to the beat of Ram Jam’s “Black Betty,” forever associating himself with cocaine smuggler George Jung aka “Boston George”—the Americano with balls who could take 50 kilos and make them disappear. On March 29, 2001, Ted Demme’s Blow made its way to theaters. The late director’s final feature wasn’t a critical darling, quite the opposite; earning Penélope Cruz a Razzie nomination and enjoying next-to-no commercial success. However, the film marked a high point in Depp’s propensity to play outlaws—the true story of Mr. Jung is something special.
Thanks to its mesmerizing central performance and themes, Blow has been administered by the general population with rolled-up dollar bills. Sure, it starts wild-eyed, excited, and gets a tad melodramatic/irritable near the end but who hasn’t had a good cry? In honor of Blow’s 20th anniversary, we rewind and retell one of Depp’s best.
Cover Photo: New Line Cinema
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George’s father teaches him the way it goes: sometimes you’re flush and sometimes you’re bust.
Who hasn’t sat around a poker table, resisting the urge to offer your next of kin as collateral? Probably not Ray Liotta’s Fred Jung. A young George watches his father work 14 hours a day, 7 days a week to support him and his mother. In the end, Fred doesn’t make enough and loses everything; declaring bankruptcy when a bow-tied George is 10 years old (and for some reason oversees these meetings at the bank).
In George’s dejection, Fred tells him, “this is how it goes: sometimes you’re flush and sometimes you’re bust. When you’re up, it’s never as good it’s never as good as it seems and when you’re down, you never think you’re going to be up again but life goes on. Remember that. Money isn’t real George, it doesn’t matter. It only seems like it does.” If only our landlords agreed.
Pee-wee Herman and pot.
George, now Johnny Depp, moves to L.A. with his friend “Tuna (played by Frankie himself, Ethan Suplee). While there, he falls in love with Barbara (Franka Potente) who introduces him to marijuana aficionado Derek Foreal. Despite Henry Hill’s sage advice, George puts Benjamins on a pedestal and starts selling pot to pay for (and promote) an independent lifestyle. Eventually, they start buying their product directly from Mexico with the help of a drug lord.
If you’re like us, you were today years old when you realized Derek is played by Pee-wee Herman (Paul Reubens) who, believe it or not, was arrested in 1991 for masturbating in an adult theater. But hey, when in Rome.
660 pounds of marijuana with intent to distribute. How do you plead?
“I don’t feel what I’ve done is a crime...I crossed an imaginary line with a bunch of plants”
“Unfortunately the line you crossed was real and the drugs were illegal…”
Not in 15-20 states (soon to be more).
George quotes Bob Dylan before being sentenced to two years in prison for importing the aforementioned amount of Mary Jane. However, George skips bail to take care of Barbara, who dies of cancer. Team Pee-wee subsequently disbands.
Meeting this guy. (Big mistake?)
You know that one friend who pretends to support you but really just wants you to fail? That’s Diego Delgado (Jordi Mollà). After George’s mother pulls a 6ix9ine and rats on him for hiding from the authorities, George spends 26 months in federal prison. His cellmate, Diego, has ties with the Medellin cartel and convinces George to get into the powder business. Together, they begin one of the largest drug trades in the history of the United States.
110 pounds of blow in 36 hours.
Just as their empire begins to grow, Diego gets arrested, leaving George to sell over 100 pounds of coke on his own. So, he calls up Derek who says “It's gonna take me a year.” It doesn’t. Californians love a good bump.
A walk to remember.
Swagger and slow-mo. Nothing is more cinematic than a shot of someone walking. Think Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson turning his back to an explosion in The Rundown, The Guardians of the Galaxy assembling to “Cherry Bomb,” or Denzel Washington in pretty much every movie he’s ever done (that man can walk). Johnny Depp smuggling drugs through an airport to “Black Betty” will go down in history as one of the all-time great strolls.
An Americano with balls. (And more walking...)
Thanks to suits and swagger, George and Diego procure a meeting with El Padrino, Señor Pablo Escobar (Cliff Curtis). “And for those of you living on the moon for the last twenty years, he was it, the boss of it all, El Magico." George talks about his balls to which El Magico replies, “so, you’re the man, huh?”
They become Escobar’s top U.S. importers in the '80s.
Do I know you?
Not to self: eye contact is important. At Diego’s wedding, George meets Mirtha (Penelope Cruz), Cesar's fiancée. Unfortunately for the latter, the most beautiful people in any film are destined to bang and/or wed.
Case in point.
Some blurred lenses, hazy screen effects, and color-schemed shots.
In case you forgot George is the narrator and recalling everything from memory.
George and Mirtha have a daughter named Kristina (Emma Roberts), who George refers to as “his heart”—something he can't live without. Having more money than God (and after having a heart attack), George decides to severs his relationship with the cartel and be a role model for his daughter but not before...
They fuck him.
Diego pressures George to reveal the identity of his Cali connection, Derek. When George does this, Diego almost immediately cuts him out (despite them being “brothers”). So, George retreats to civilian life for the next five years until his 38th birthday party, attended by a plethora of drug associates, is raided by the DEA—George’s bank accounts are seized and he goes on the run. Thankfully, he has a loving and supportive wife. Nope. Mirtha and George get pulled over while driving and the former tells the police officer that George is a fugitive and has a kilo of cocaine in the trunk, sending him to jail for three years. They inevitably divorce and George develops a potbelly.
Thursday after school, just pack your bags.
Once released from jail, George does everything to make things right with Kristina, promising “on her life” that they’ll take a trip to California and arranges one last deal to set himself up.
The deal is a setup.
Derek and company leak the details of the exchange to the FBI and DEA save their own asses. George is sentenced to 60 years, breaks his promise, and everything he loves in his life goes away.
Cue the waterworks.
Hello Dad, you know I remember a lifetime ago...
An imprisoned George requests furlough to see his dying father but his mother denies the request. Instead, George records a message; saying, “ remember that time when you told me that money wasn't real? Well, old man, I'm 42 years old, and I finally realize what you were trying to tell me, so many years ago. I finally understand. Your the best, pop, just wish I could have done more for you, wish we had more time.”
George, you have a visitor.
Blow ends many years later with George as an old man in prison. We are shown a poignant moment between him and his daughter; however, as the guard calls for George, she disappears. She has yet to visit him. The arc of George Jung deals with wealth, dreams, and reality. George doesn’t want to be poor like his father because, like all of us, he doesn’t want to be alone. Money isn’t real but people are. This is what makes the fate of George and his daughter so tragic—George ends up alone.
Those who reject fear and strive towards the unconventional, risk everything (especially if you're a drug dealer). “I force a smile knowing my ambition far exceeded my talent.”
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George Jung was released from prison on June 2, 2014 after serving 20 years.
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