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

The Congress
Film Review: The Congress

Part live-action, part cornea-searing animation, this cinematic overload is ambitious but ultimately fatigues as it plays with the intriguing notion of a fading Hollywood star selling rights so her cyberspace avatar can rise to superstardom and stay forever young in virtual reality. Flashy animation and cynical stabs at celebrity culture and movie-studio finagling keep things lively for a while. More »

The Last of Robin Hood
Film Review: The Last of Robin Hood

Serviceable vehicle for a salacious story. More »

Last Weekend
Film Review: Last Weekend

A sort of modern Chekhovian study of family tensions over a country weekend, this indie drama is very pretty to look at and at times disarming, but needed more punch. More »

The Notebook
Film Review: The Notebook

An aloof adaptation of Agota Kristof's best-seller that's technically impressive but precludes audience identification. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Film Review: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Neither significantly better nor worse than its predecessor, the belated Sin City sequel is more of a repeat, rather than a continuation, of the original. More »

If I Stay
Film Review: If I Stay

Delivers as promised. 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