Howard Marks has become an unlikely celebrity in Britain. At 65 years of age now, the former drug smuggler has gone on to be a best selling author, band manager, TV personality, politician for the legalisation of cannabis and has even in recent years taken his life story to the road with a series of sold out tour dates. Last year on this side of the water, as was inevitable, Marks also became the lead character in a major motion picture. The film, Mr. Nice, will be shipped over to the United States next month – not the first experience Marks has had with shipping things into America, might I add – and it is a drama well worth seeking out.
Rhys Ifans, last seen in Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, is a man who was born to play Howard Marks. Often considered something of a rock star, his cool, confident swagger means that he incorporates the character of Marks with an ease that even the most gifted actors struggle to achieve sometimes. Even better, however, are Chloe Sevigny, who after her role in HBO’s Big Love proves that there’s no one in the acting industry better suited to play a suffering wife than her, and another Harry Potter alumni, David Thewlis, who is impossible to take your eyes away from.
Though his storytelling is fantastic here, Bernard Rose does, on the other hand, suffer from the tragedy of placing style over substance in a number of Mr. Nice’s sequences. Because his narrative is so fascinating, the moments that break away from the film’s realism, including some terrible special effects that see Rhys Ifans incorporated onto stock footage from the 1970s and 80s, are disorientating and should possibly have been given more care. While it could certainly be argued that its independent spirit doesn’t allow the huge budget needed to capture Howard Marks’ globe-trotting lifestyle, many of these scenes, I felt, weren’t necessary. After all, what grounds this film isn’t its imagery; it’s the drama at its core.
Furthermore, Mr. Nice, whether or not you agree with its political standpoint, provides some interesting food for thought when it comes to the politics of narcotics. It presents a clear case for the legalisation of cannabis on a number of occasions, most notably the one in which Marks and his future wife are caught having sex by the girl’s boyfriend. Here, being under the influence of drugs means that the threat of violence is quickly quashed and peaceful resolution begins. Nonetheless, scenes like this only serve a background to the story and Rose takes care not to force the issues down the viewers’ throats.
Mr. Nice is by no means a classic or even one of the films of the year, but Howard Mark’s story is so fascinating that it’s great to see it given the cinematic treatment it deserves.