Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

The drug dealer as Mr Nice Guy sounds like an oxymoron. But that's what George Jung was. A small-town boy from New England, who escaped to California with his best friend, Tuna (Ethan Suplee), in the Sixties, he could not believe how warm and friendly everyone was, especially the girls.

He is introduced to Derek Foreal (Paul Reubens), a gloriously camp hairdresser, who has bags of marijuana in his back room. They go into business together. He becomes known on the beach as Boston George and everyone is getting high and having a groovy time.

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These were the innocent years. After jumping bail to look after his terminally ill girlfriend, things change. He does a stint in jail, where he shares a cell with Diego (Jordi Molla), a South American car thief. Later, they will join forces and open up the cocaine trade George meets Pablo Escobar (Cliff Curtis) in Columbia and they come to an arrangement. Within a year, cocaine is the fashionable drug amongst actors, musicians and L.A. socialites.

He marries the fiancee (Penelope Cruz) of one of Escobar's men, which, knowing South American attitudes toward women, might have been a foolish move. She made a play for him, which was impossible to resist, since her beauty radiates across the room. They have a daughter, whom George dotes on, but the marriage turns nasty. She likes the money, the fun, the parties, but not the responsibility.

The cocaine trade being so lucrative, it encouraged disloyalty and betrayal. George, being the nice guy, lays himself open for his friends to take him down. Greed and the insatiable popularity of the drug becomes the engine that drives a more violent, ruthless style of operation.

Ted Demme is not the right director for this kind of movie. There is a sentimentality, particularly in connection with George's relationship with his daughter, that cloys. Also, the romanticism of the drug dealer begins to feel false after a while.

Cruz has been lovely too long (Captain Corelli's Mandolin, All The Pretty Horses). Here, she lets rip with astonishing affect. It's a lesson in bitch culture. The film belongs to Johnny Depp, as George. He changes throughout the movie, reflecting what is happening in the business. It is a magnificent performance, worthy of a visit just for him.

Reviewed on: 23 May 2001
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True story of smalltown boy who runs away to California to become the biggest drug dealer.
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Director: Ted Demme

Writer: David McKenna, Nick Cassavetes

Starring: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Franka Potente, Rachel Griffiths, Paul Reubens, Jordi Molla, Ray Liotta, Ethan Suplee, Cliff Curtis

Year: 2001

Runtime: 123 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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