Saturday, 9 October 2010

Mr. Nice - Dir. Bernard Rose

Taking a break away from filming Snuff movies and Leo Tolstoy adaptations, Bernard Rose’s newest project tells the story of the famed British drug smuggler Dennis Howard Marks. Born in the idyllic Welsh valleys and going from an A-Grade student to A-Star drug smuggler, Howard Marks became one of the most notorious criminals in Britain after the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act was ratified by Parliament and Edward Heath’s conservative Government declared a ‘war on drugs’ in British culture. Rhys Ifans is Marks, while Chloe Sevigny plays his trusting wife Judy, while a crew of predominately famous British and Irish actors fill the rest of the inclusive roles including David Thewlis, Andrew Tiernan, Omid Djalili, Jamie Harris, and Ken Russell. And despite this array of acting talent on show, the film continually falls due to the lack of engagement either by the characters or the unrealistic situations by which they are involved within.

Rose’s screenplay is based upon Marks autobiography, thus going into this film, dramatization of the events after the fact are expected. Beginning in a small Welsh school and eventually ascending to the heights of Oxford University, Marks (Ifans) is shown to be an intelligent, hard-working youngster who wishes to rise beyond the working-class lifestyle that many had imposed upon themselves without action in the 1950’s and 60’s. However, once he starts to become friends with the free-loving, upper-class, dope smoking students in his dormitory, he starts to experience an alternative perception to not only reality, but financial success; import the drugs to the masses, and thy shall prosper. After graduating Oxford University, and attempting to go into a straight, legal job, Marks eventually gets drawn into the world of international hashish smuggling, and from here on in travels the world trafficking drugs to help his wife Judy (Chloe Sevigny) and their daughters a better life.

Despite initially seeming to be a character study of a bright, Welsh boy who has found success outside of the law, ‘Mr. Nice’ steadily develops into an argument for the pro-legalization of marijuana. Marks takes the name of a steady businessman whose name is “pronounced like the French town Nice, but spelt N-I-C-E,” he continually asserts that he himself has “never taken hard drugs,” while all the scenes involving hashish and cannabis smoking show no harm or violence, and those he involved himself with in dope smoking rings in University all now have attained for themselves respectable middle-class jobs. The police are shown to incompetent buffoons at times choosing to go after Marks rather than the ‘real criminals,’ and finally, and most importantly, the after effects of drug taking is never fully considered, only once does a character attempt to ask if smoking hashish is harmful to one’s mental and physical state and then he is instantly shot down before even given anything that resembles an acceptable answer. While the legalization of any narcotic in either Britain or the United States is always a contestable subject, it would have been a lot more interesting (and maybe even persuasive to the right audience), if Rose had attempted to build upon this area and create a solid basis of argument, rather than simply showing that ‘drugs = peace and love’.

Aside from the fact that ‘Mr. Nice’ is a sub-par pro-legalization film, it does contain many elements of humour, drama and emotion, especially during the first and final acts of the film which tie up the journey Howard Marks takes across the world, from hashish farms in Pakistan and Afghanistan, to inside the walls of a German prison. The chase sequences involving Marks and the various police organisations across the globe are surprising repetitive and incredibly monotonous, however the sequences beyond his life as a drug trafficker, i.e. the relationship with Judy, his friends, and eventually his children, somewhat humanizes Marks and shows that beyond every criminals working life, is a loving element, and for Marks this was his family. While the concrete acting of the various secondary actor and actresses provide continual comic relief to subsidise this ‘serious’ aspect of Marks’s life, especially Jim McCann (David Thewlis), the ranting, raving, sex-obsessed Provisional Irish Republican Army member who helps Marks bring the hashish in through Ireland for a hefty sum of money.

‘Mr. Nice’ is a far-cry away from Bernard Rose’s recent films, and his cult horror classic ‘Candyman,’ and it is still many a cinematic mile away from being classed as perfect film, but it’s at times a humorous British film that attempts to use British talent is sometimes overlooked at their fingertips. Its budget restrictions are clear to see with the combination of new and stock footage, and it stumbles during the most important, middle segment of the film as repetition takes control over the narrative, and it offers nothing new, revolutionary or ideologically important to the cause of the legalization of marijuana, but it does engage at times, and the brilliant, yet traumatic final twenty minutes of the film adequately sum up a man’s life, who is most probably one of the most intelligent drug smugglers to have ever lived.
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