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good, but bends the facts more than a little.....
on October 16, 2001
This film presses all the right buttons, but being touted as basically the true-life story of George Jung, I was disappointed that the film paid little respect to the chronology of significant events and completely overlooked many of the defining moments of George's career.
Having already read the book "Blow" - available from Amazon and an excellent biography - perhaps I found it more difficult to get "into" the movie, often asking myself "why is this happening/not happening now?" amongst other things...
A few obvious changes for dramatic effect, perhaps.....
1. George's first girlfriend (played by the babelicious Franka Potente) tell's George she has an incurable disease, so he skips bail to hang out with her in Mexico until she dies. In actual fact, the girlfriend was dumped pretty quickly, was never fatally-ill (interviewed for the book) and was one of a long, long succession of girls that George used and discarded during his "career". He skipped to Mexico purely because he didn't want to go to jail, and move into "quantity" smuggling of marijuana.
2. George is basically kidnapped and taken to Colombia to meet Pablo Escobar, - a test - and this meeting "starts" the whole coke business. In fact however, George had been importing/dealing large quantities of coke for a few years before going to meet Pablo - something he did voluntarily on his own, to gain status among the Florida-based Columbians and gain favour with Pablo in his problems with Carlos Lehder - a cartel member.
The movie ignores or trivialises many of George's character traits - huge long-term coke usage and the resultant psychosis and paranoia, his life-long addiction to hookers, kinky sex, including masochistic tendencies played-out by cross-dressing (french maid)and being dominated and "spanked" by his wife while tied spread-eagled to their marital bed, among many others.
The turning point, the start of his "real" troubles is when George confides his secrets to an undercover cop whom he meets one afternoon on the beach out-front of his house. In short-order, George invites the guy into his house, tells the cop that he's a big-time smuggler and immediately makes him part of the "operation" without knowing anything about the guy. This of course brings big heat onto George, and the good-guys start engineering George's downfall.
The movie omits this entire pivotal event however, perhaps because the real-life event, that for a genuine big-time dealer with $30m stashed in the house,at least, displayed a degree of stupidity and naievety that would make Johnny Depp's George (smart, hip, trusting)look stupid and just too unbelievable to be sympathetic.
Nor is there any factual basis for the whole father/daughter interplay in the movie, which I personally think is overdone, and is pretty out-of-character anyway.
Finally (at least for this review) the money George had stashed away in Panama, approx. $50m apparently, was not confiscated by the Panamanian Govt (Noriega)- George never visited Panama - but was stolen by the pilots who opened the bank account for George, (co-signatories) and flew the cash down on a regular basis over several years. It defies belief that over several years, George never thought to enquire about the balance of his account, and just kept shuttling the cash into the account, but that's what actually happened.
Carlos Lehder was arrested in Colombia - basically fingered by Escobar for bringing the heat down on the cartel because of his loopy political beliefs, extradited to the States, with George being the main prosecution witness. This gained George early release, and it was actually another bust in the mid-80's that reulted in George's present incarceration. Again, none of this was in the movie, although I think it would have brought another perspective to George's characterisation, and also given George some revenge for his beating by Carlos' thugs on Norman Cay (never happened) had it been included.
I guess all these and many more factual inaccuracies in combination with Johnny Depp's overly sympathetic portrayal of George - almost a victim of circumstance - and definitely too "nice" to be in the drug business, are so far off the real-deal that it made it very difficult for me to give this movie the respect that so many others think it deserves....
All this doesn't stop the movie being good entertainment but I can't help thinking how good it "could" have been, had it been a little more true to George's real story.
The cast is generally outstanding, the look and sound of the DVD transfer never less than luscious, and the soundtrack really brought back the 70s / early 80s for me - a time of bad fashion, worse haircuts, and for most of us, a time probably best forgotten.
Buy the DVD. The book "blow" is definitely worth reading, and if you're still interested in the whole coke thing, consider checking out the book titled "Killing Pablo" a factual look at the the coke business, the Medelin cartel, and the hunt-for and eventual killing of Pablo Escobar. Now "there's" a movie just begging to be made......