I initially had no interest in this film, thinking who wants to see a movie about some two bit dope dealer? My teenage son, however, rented the DVD, and I found myself a captive audience. To my surprise, it was a riveting, well done film. Sure, it was about a two bit dope dealer, but what a story. George Jung, an all American kid from a hard working, hard knocks family, begins dealing marijuana during the 1960s. He develops his business into an empire, and then he decides to branch out into the sexier world of cocaine and really big money. Using his considerable entrepreneurial instinct, he makes a deal with the Columbian drug cartel. Before you know it, he is raking in millions. Unfortunately, the best laid plans often go awry, and there is no fairy tale ending for George. This is a story of hopes, dreams, violence, greed, and betrayal.
Well directed by the late Ted Demme, the film is compelling and absorbing as it recounts George Jung's incredible odyssey in the drug trade, tracking the rise of the cocaine industry in the United States, attendant with all its violence. Johnny Depp, in the role of George Jung, makes him into a likable guy who has bitten off more than he can chew, with ultimately dire results. His is a search for the American Dream, a dream that forever remains elusive.
Ray Liotta is terrific in the role of George's father, Fred Jung, a sensitive and devoted everyman married to a hard, selfish woman, Ermine Jung, a woman who lacks all motherly instincts and is played with gritty determination by Rachel Griffiths. Jordi Molla is excellent in the role of Diego, George's entre into the world of high stakes, cocaine dealing, and Cliff Curtis is excellent as Escobar, the Columbian drug cartel's main man. Penelope Cruz is terrible as George's beautiful Latina wife, Mirtha. She is simply a bad actress whose English is often unintelligible. With the exception of Ms. Cruz, however, the cast is uniformly excellent.
This is the story about a young man who, faced with choices in his life, made the wrong ones and lived to regret it. Johnny Depp captures the pathos of Jung's wasted life. That his characterization is dead on is brought home by Ted Demme's wonderful interview of the real George Jung. This interview is one of the numerous bonus features on this DVD and is well worth watching. It is a poignant interview, as it underscores that Jung's was a life wasted. It also serves to illustrate just how remarkable Depp's characterization of Jung really is. All in all, this is a vibrant, informative, and entertaining film.