Most wanted, most wasted

Based on the autobiography of the same name, Mr. Nice is the story of Welshman Howard Marks; branded by the Daily Mirror as “the most sophisticated drugs baron of all time.”

But in this biopic, Mr. Nice appears to be far from sophisticated, and is charmingly portrayed by Rhys Ifans as a likeable but somewhat shambolic blagger, who gets by on charisma over aptitude. Yet it would be wrong to suppose that Marks was lacking in brain power, having studied both as an undergraduate and postgraduate at Oxford University, where he first discovers dope, and is lead into a swinging world that will define his future.

The first part of the film is shot in black and white and chronicles Marks’ school days, up until the moment at Oxford where he has his first toke of dope, and suddenly the film is animated in luminous colour.

Comically, Ifans is not made to look younger or any less bedraggled during his school years, and is portrayed as a carefree ruffian throughout the picture, adding comic amorality to the film. The audience cannot fail to like Marks, and are caught up in his excitement when he confesses: “I experienced asexual orgasms on those border crossings”.

With heavy stylisation that captures the swagger, style and aptitude for getting stoned of the man himself, Mr. Nice captures Marks’ dope hazed lifestyle, but the viewer is never offered lucidity on the multi-million pound drug deals Marks is at the head of. Instead we are met with a humorous (if caricatured) array of characters, from Jim McCann, the psychopathic IRA frontman, somewhat overplayed by David Thewlis; to Mark’s hippy wife (Chloe Sevigny) and hashish contact Saleem Makik, played by Iranian comedian Omid Djalili.

Some original footage from Marks’ heyday, with actors somewhat shabbily pasted in, adds to the comical feel of the picture. Everything from purposefully dodgy stylisation to the ludicrous, sometimes entirely unrealistic scenarios in which Marks finds himself adds to the spoof-like feel of the biopic.

Unlike other films that explore the glamorous lifestyles of international drug traffickers, such as Blow (2001), the story of the man who established the American cocaine market at the same time Marks was operating; Mr. Nice maintains some grit, and shows the agony of Marks’ prison sentence, and his starting out in caravan parks and pay phones.

Although the characters and scenarios could be argued to be far from realistic, nonetheless the film is laugh out loud funny and undeniably entertaining, if somewhat lacking in a moral conclusion. But does it need one?

Mr. Nice is a far cry from director Bernard Rose’s other pictures, such as cult horror classic Candyman (1992), and has been criticised for an overexposure of dope smoking, without relating any harmful effects.

Howard Marks is a campaigner for the legalisation of cannabis, tours the country with a one man show and has featured on cannabis documentaries like Stoned in Suburbia, and Howard Marks on Drugs. In 1997, Marks stood for election in the UK parliament on the single issue of the legalisation of marijuana. But even if the film has been dubbed ‘pro-legalisation’, perhaps this drives the biopic from the view of the protagonist himself, and does not act as a piece of campaign propaganda, but aims to capture events from Mark’s own angle.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the man himself,, his official website, provides information about Marks, as well as press cuttings and real DEA phone taps from a period in 1986 when Marks was a highly monitored individual.

Entertaining and worth a watch, just not to be taken too seriously.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.