Cambridge Film Festival Review: Mr. Nice

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The Pitch: Howard The Skunk.

The Review: I spent four years at University in Bath, getting a degree and starting to develop my love of movies. While I was there, I came into contact with two things for the first time in my life: drugs, and the Welsh. Not a combination that I, or indeed anyone else, would necessarily put together, but that combination was responsible for one of the biggest drug trafficking rings ever seen in this country, or indeed any other. That Welshness was contributed fairly effectively by one man, Howard Marks, described by the Daily Mail as “the most sophisticated drugs baron of all time.”

Not that you’d know that from watching Mr. Nice. Rhys Ifans comes across as a fairly reasonable approximation of the man himself, and this is the story of his passage from the small coal-mining village where he grew up to Oxford, and the pronounced influence that had on his future direction. Despite becoming a big fan of recreational drugs, if Mr. Nice is to be believed Marks fell into his career almost by accident, just happening to be in either the right or wrong place at the appropriate time. Slowly but surely, he expands his influence and his reach, and every time an opportunity comes up, he takes it.

In order to get what he needs, he begins to rope in a motley crew of accomplices, and ends up getting involved with the IRA (a manic David Thewlis) and eventually even expands into the Americas (via a bearded Crispin Glover), despite the protestations of his wife (Chloe Sevigny), seemingly the only person who can appreciate the potential cost of the risks that Howard’s taking. Through the course of this, don’t expect deep insights into why Marks is doing what he’s doing, or passionate arguments for the legalisation of recreational drugs – those are only implied in the sense that this really isn’t Trainspotting, and the downsides of Howard’s habits are the run-ins with the law that he had, not from what he or any others ended up taking.

But freed from the weight of those expectations, this is an enjoyable romp. Bernard Rose has both adapted the screenplay and directed – his direction is unshowy, but there are little stylised touches (inserting Ifans into stock historical footage) and the occasional impressive image, but by and large he lets the story do the talking. Thewlis probably gets to have the most fun, raging around with his accent, while the only slight weak link is Sevigny, the accent wavering just occasionally and the performance also slightly shaky. There’s nothing shaky about anyone else, though, they’re all too tripped out on the material, so just sit back, revel in the absurdities of the story (all true, as long as you believe Marks), and have a good time, man.

Why see it at the cinema: There’s a few shots, such as a car crash, that will benefit from the big screen, but by and large you’d be here more for the company than the impact of the visuals.

The Score: 7/10

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