Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: How to Make Money Selling Drugs

The efficacy of the war on drugs is given another solid punch in the face by Matthew Cooke’s occasionally smarmy but strongly argued documentary that functions as a faux Letter to a Young Drug Dealer.

June 25, 2013

-By Chris Barsanti


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1379838-How_Money_Drugs_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

In Matthew Cooke’s spritely documentary How to Make Money Selling Drugs, he means the title to be taken quite seriously…sort of. Setting itself up as a kind of instructional video for would-be drug dealers, the film is structured as a step-by-step “training guide” to making it to the top of a viciously competitive but highly lucrative (albeit illegal) industry. Cooke advances his film level by level through the various layers of criminal enterprise (“Level One: Getting Started” to the top level: Cartels), examining all the operational hazards and institutional hypocrisies encountered along the way.

Since the point here is to show how standardized the business of street-level drug dealing is, Cooke goes to the best source to get his intel: the dealers themselves. It’s a mixed bag of interviewees he pulls in, though all are engaging in their own way. Ranging from relative small-fry like Bobby Carlton, an East Coast guy with a curly Kenny G hairdo, and the charmingly smiley Southern California smuggler Pepe, to the infamous “Freeway” Rick Ross (a onetime kingpin allegedly responsible for introducing crack to the West Coast) and ex-dealer turned rapper 50 Cent, Cooke has a deep list of experts to draw from. Although the specifics of their advice vary depending on their specialties, the overarching message is much the same from any of them.

First, “weed” (or just about any other illegal drug) “makes friends.” Second, it’s not hard. Third, the money is phenomenal, with even low-level pawns able to make $1,000 a day. Fourth, violence is inevitable, so make sure to either be armed or hang with a crew that will scare the competition off. Fifth, you’ll probably get caught eventually (especially if you’re a black cocaine dealer, who get arrested and convicted at a much higher rate than white dealers), so have an insurance plan.

Cooke’s humorous approach has some payoff here and there, such as the Beverly Hills high-school dealer who talks about how he could overcharge his clientele that understood neither grams nor the going rate with “rich-girl prices.” But as the film advances higher in the criminal drug chain, its tongue-in-cheek message to the fictitious dealer watching the film takes on a more satiric edge. Interviewees such as judges, lawyers and former narcotics officers all get their turn in front of the camera to explain the war on drugs as being an utterly corrupted and failed system that does little but increase violent crime and prison populations. Scenes from David Simon’s “The Wire” are seeded throughout to more strongly illustrate certain points. Simon himself gets a few choice lines that echo his stringent warnings about the long-term societal damage caused by the war on drugs used in last year’s The House I Live In.

Some viewers may come to this documentary because of the appearances of celebrity advocates like Susan Sarandon, Russell Simmons and Woody Harrelson. But fortunately, Cooke devotes most of the film to people who have spent time on both sides of combat in this war, and who can speak most honestly to its litany of casualties and vanishingly rare successes.


Film Review: How to Make Money Selling Drugs

The efficacy of the war on drugs is given another solid punch in the face by Matthew Cooke’s occasionally smarmy but strongly argued documentary that functions as a faux Letter to a Young Drug Dealer.

June 25, 2013

-By Chris Barsanti


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1379838-How_Money_Drugs_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

In Matthew Cooke’s spritely documentary How to Make Money Selling Drugs, he means the title to be taken quite seriously…sort of. Setting itself up as a kind of instructional video for would-be drug dealers, the film is structured as a step-by-step “training guide” to making it to the top of a viciously competitive but highly lucrative (albeit illegal) industry. Cooke advances his film level by level through the various layers of criminal enterprise (“Level One: Getting Started” to the top level: Cartels), examining all the operational hazards and institutional hypocrisies encountered along the way.

Since the point here is to show how standardized the business of street-level drug dealing is, Cooke goes to the best source to get his intel: the dealers themselves. It’s a mixed bag of interviewees he pulls in, though all are engaging in their own way. Ranging from relative small-fry like Bobby Carlton, an East Coast guy with a curly Kenny G hairdo, and the charmingly smiley Southern California smuggler Pepe, to the infamous “Freeway” Rick Ross (a onetime kingpin allegedly responsible for introducing crack to the West Coast) and ex-dealer turned rapper 50 Cent, Cooke has a deep list of experts to draw from. Although the specifics of their advice vary depending on their specialties, the overarching message is much the same from any of them.

First, “weed” (or just about any other illegal drug) “makes friends.” Second, it’s not hard. Third, the money is phenomenal, with even low-level pawns able to make $1,000 a day. Fourth, violence is inevitable, so make sure to either be armed or hang with a crew that will scare the competition off. Fifth, you’ll probably get caught eventually (especially if you’re a black cocaine dealer, who get arrested and convicted at a much higher rate than white dealers), so have an insurance plan.

Cooke’s humorous approach has some payoff here and there, such as the Beverly Hills high-school dealer who talks about how he could overcharge his clientele that understood neither grams nor the going rate with “rich-girl prices.” But as the film advances higher in the criminal drug chain, its tongue-in-cheek message to the fictitious dealer watching the film takes on a more satiric edge. Interviewees such as judges, lawyers and former narcotics officers all get their turn in front of the camera to explain the war on drugs as being an utterly corrupted and failed system that does little but increase violent crime and prison populations. Scenes from David Simon’s “The Wire” are seeded throughout to more strongly illustrate certain points. Simon himself gets a few choice lines that echo his stringent warnings about the long-term societal damage caused by the war on drugs used in last year’s The House I Live In.

Some viewers may come to this documentary because of the appearances of celebrity advocates like Susan Sarandon, Russell Simmons and Woody Harrelson. But fortunately, Cooke devotes most of the film to people who have spent time on both sides of combat in this war, and who can speak most honestly to its litany of casualties and vanishingly rare successes.
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Specialty Releases

Laggies
Film Review: Laggies

Disappointing comedic entry about a late-20s slacker who won’t grow up is writer/filmmaker Lynn Shelton’s first outing directing someone else’s material. Points here for strong cast and an occasional chuckle, but otherwise there’s just no point. More »

Rudderless
Film Review: Rudderless

Well-done indie drama about a lost-soul house painter reborn through rock ’n’ roll is a nice actor’s showcase for star Billy Crudup and an impressive directorial debut for actor William H. Macy. But in spite of some good work onscreen, both hero and story lack the edge and originality to carry this drama beyond respectability. More »

Camp X-Ray
Film Review: Camp X-Ray

Army guard and Guantanamo detainee form a grudging relationship in a thoughtful but far-fetched drama. More »

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
Film Review: The Tale of The Princess Kaguya

As charming as it is delicate, this unusually low-key, if a tad overlong, animated feature brings yet more prestige to the famed Ghibli output. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

Fury Review
Film Review: Fury

American tanks fight superior German forces in the closing days of World War II. More »

Birdman
Film Review: Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Virtuosic camerawork and a stellar ensemble of actors more than make up for the occasional moment of portentous twaddle in Alejandro G. Iñárritu's latest—and maybe his best—film. More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here