Thursday, 13 September 2012

HOW TO MAKE MONEY SELLING DRUGS - TIFF 2012 - Review By Greg Klymkiw

How To Make Money Selling Drugs (2013) ***
Dir. Matthew Cooke
Starring: Barry Cooper, Freeway Rick Ross, Brian O’Dea, Bobby Carlton, David Simon, 50 Cent, Eminem, Woody Harrelson, Susan Sarandon

Review By Greg Klymkiw

A day doesn't go by when I can't help but shake my head over how utterly moronic America seems. Its founding principles seem to be diametrically opposed to the actual manner in which the country is continually driven by the not-so-secret needs of its wealthiest few and how easily the vast majority of its populace accepts the country's endless human rights violations, lack of freedoms and the exploitation of the basic tenets of democracy.

It is a country that's essentially on the verge of being little more than a Third World Nation run by puppets and populated with a majority of boobs exploited for their willing acceptance of a system that continues to dumb them ever-downwards by any means necessary. The country's seemingly endless war-mongering - most notably its idiotic War on Terror - is matched by its War On Drugs.

Matthew Cooke's clever, funny and mildly subversive documentary How To Make Money Selling Drugs delivers a step-by-step, blow-by-blow how-to guide on the ins and outs of hawking marijuana and cocaine (and by extension, pretty much any illicit drug). Replete with all manner of flashy TV-styled cutting, sound effects and on-screen title cards, it is - on its surface - a fascinating look at how some of the best in the "business" ply (or have plied) their illicit trade and yielded oodles of cash. These individuals run the gamut of street dealers all the way up to cartel-leaders and through their experiences we learn the perils and pitfalls as much as we learn the ways to achieve success.

Some of the more seemingly successful practitioners of the trade, Barry Cooper, Freeway Rick Ross and Brian O’Dea are all incredibly open and informative as they detail their how-to approaches. These guys are on-camera, but off camera (with disguised voices) or in front of the camera (in disguise and/or with pseudonyms) we get additional tips. If we were to follow their advice, the movie suggests that we too can make ourselves a decent living.

Luckily, the film also presents these same subjects' downfalls (occasional or permanent) and some of it seems so convincing that we feel like IF we could avoid some of the mistakes made that led to incarceration, we could hit dizzying heights of financial success without penalty. This, of course, is tempered by reality and it's eventually obvious that selling drugs IS indeed a losing game - not because it's wrong, immoral or criminal (which to varying degrees it is and/or can be), but because the Status Quo has stacked the deck to allow it AND then deny/destroy it - all for personal gain at the political level.

In addition to focusing upon several real-life dealers, the picture also presents numerous law enforcement officials - cops, DEA agents, lawyers and judiciary. Their presence confirms and presents the ease with which one can make money selling drugs, but also how those on the other side of the coin make their "collars" - none of them, not surprisingly, all that imaginative. The law uses a variety of snitches, but also employs threats, intimidation, entrapment and even just plain planting drugs on suspected dealers.

One of the more interesting subjects is Bobby Carlton an ex-cop who details every single manner in which he willingly and even gleefully entrapped people. Astoundingly, the film follows his story to a point where he joins the "other side" and becomes an activist and advocate for the rights of dealers to the point where he is now forced to live in self-imposed exile to escape persecution by American law enforcement officials who frown up his change of heart and activities associated with it.

The filmmakers also present a wide variety of celebrity interviews - those who have dealt and/or used drugs to those who are fighting against the archaic and immoral anti-drug laws and campaigns. Interviews with the "real thing" former dealers and/or users include the stellar likes of 50-cent and Eminem. Celebrity activists include Little Mrs. Commitment herself Susan Sarandon and everyone's favourite wacko advocate Woody Harrelson.

Right from the start of the film, there's a subtle and eventually, not-so-subtle subtext which provides both a history of America's War On Drugs and exposes the utter hypocrisy of it. In so doing, the movie cleverly uses its how-to guide as a plea for saner American approaches to the "Drug Problem" - a problem that seems manufactured by the government with its Draconian approaches to the War On Drugs - so much so that David Simon, the creator of hit series The Wire, points out the irony that law enforcement agents and agencies (including straight-up cops themselves) place so much emphasis on how to entrap dealers that good, old-fashioned police work goes the way of the Dodo (to the detriment of many other serious crimes never being properly solved).

The movie cleverly manipulates itself to deliver one poignant and often heartbreaking sequence after another that details the fall of the aforementioned "criminals" in addition to those who are not dealers at all, but are in the wrong place at the wrong time. The dealers all seem to be at peace with the risks of the profession, but those caught up in the trade innocently and inadvertently suffer from wrongful arrest, incarceration and what often seem like utterly unconstitutional, if not illegal (and certainly immoral) raids, arrests and incarcerations.

At the end of the day, we have a film which uses a satirical approach to its subject to act as a plea for a saner approach to drugs and both the use and sales of said hallucinogens. Some of the satire is of the Lite persuasion and while at times, I might have preferred an even more subversive approach to the subject, it doesn't take away from the fact that this is yet another convincing and important expose of America's hypocrisy - not just in terms of drugs, but by extension, everything.

"How To Make Money Selling Drugs" via Berkshire Axis Media premieres at TIFF 2012.