Film review: Blow (2001) by Ted Demme

Blow (2001) is a biographical motion picture about the notorious American cocaine smuggler George Jung. The movie is an adaptation from the book Blow: How a Small Town Boy Made $100 Million with the Medellin Cocaine Cartel and Lost It All authored by Bruce Porter in 1993. The writing team of David McKenna and Nick Cassavetes has handled the screenplay for the film. The story combines interesting events from the lives of most wanted drug traders of recent times including George Jung, Carlos Lehder, Pablo Escobar, etc. The influential Medellin Cartel’s fluctuating fortunes were also included in the story. This essay will analyze the following elements of the film: Genre, Mise En Scene, cinematography and shot selection.

The plot has all the ingredients typical of underworld films – violence, sex, suspense, sudden twists of fortunes, etc. Johnny Depp plays the young George Jung, who begins life in Weymouh Massachusetts. His childhood is chaotic due to the financial difficulty and eventual bankruptcy of his father Fred (played by Ray Liotta) by the time George was barely ten. But young George endures through this chaos and grows into a confident young man. The action heats up as George and his accomplices in crime Tuna (played by Ethan Suplee), Barbara (played by Franka Potente) and Derek Foreal (played by Paul Reubens) hatch up a plan to exploit the lucrative-yet-unexplored pot market in Boston. From here on the intrigue heightens as George is always sought after by law enforcement authorities.

The initial success of his drug trading venture encourages George to expand the scale and breadth of his operations. This takes him on many dangerous yet cinematically interesting adventures to Mexico and other destinations. These journeys link up his identity to the Medellin cartel and other prominent figures of Central American drug trade. While his illegal activities are shooting off this trajectory, his personal life shows a contrast. For someone who is so cut-throat and matter-of-fact in his business dealings, George is actually a touchy and sentimental person. This is particularly true with respect to his relationship with this father, mother and wife. The appeal of this biopic largely emerges from this contrasting juxtaposition of George Jung’s two-faceted personality.

Coming now to aspects of film language, the film can be classified as underworld biopic, with its regular stylistic elements put in place. There are clear resemblances to such mafia-based movies as Goodfellas and Boogie Nights. There is even an odd tinge of The Godfather. The swift and succinct camerawork by Ellen Kuras complements this genre very well. There is also a sense of rhythm witnessed in both the narrative and cinematography, as scenes move from action to suspense to sentimental.

The Mise En Scene throughout the film is handled in such a deft manner that it reflects the genre. For example, the high-risk world of illegal drug trade is depicted with its usual accompaniments of back-streets, late nights and poor neighborhoods. Even in the first scene that introduces George, the room he enters is shown with minimal furnishing and décor, with only the meat freezer curtains visible in the background. Here, cinematography substitutes for dialogue in conveying to the audience the shady, risky existence of the character in the frame. The employment of documentary style narration at select places makes those scenes look more credible.

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