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

Calvary
Film Review: Calvary

An invidious, enervating piece of work blessedly relieved by Brendan Gleeson’s empathetic portrayal of a worldly priest confronting the sins of the world. More »

Rich Hill
Film Review: Rich Hill

This study of teens trying to make it in a very depressed and depressing heartland would have benefited from more hard info and less pictorial meandering. More »

Child of God
Film Review: Child of God

Depravity abounds in this James Franco-directed adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel, which despite a committed performance by Scott Haze proves a one-note endurance test. More »

Cabin Fever: Patient Zero
Film Review: Cabin Fever: Patient Zero

A return to the stripped–down ferocity of Eli Roth's no-frills 2002 shocker, Cabin Fever: Patient Zero (which the title suggests is a prequel, though it doesn't really feel like one) lacks originality but delivers the body-horror goods far better than genre minimalist Ti West's Cabin Fever 2: Spring Break (2009), a broadly campy spin on ’70s high-school horror clichés. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

Get On Up
Film Review: Get On Up

Chadwick Boseman is sensational in this multi-faceted portrait of troubled, pioneering soul-music giant James Brown. More »

Guardians of the Galaxy review
Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

With Marvel’s backing, cult filmmaker James Gunn blasts off for the stars and takes audiences along for a wild, funny ride. 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