Review by Jack Foley
BERNARD Rose’s Mr Nice offers a hit-and-miss account of the often remarkable life of international drug trafficker Howard Marks.
Based on Marks’ own autobiography of the same name (which has now sold over one million copies), the film recalls a life that took its subject from the small town of Kenfig in South Wales to Oxford University, Germany, London, Ireland, Pakistan, Amsterdam, Thailand, Ibiza, Majorca, Manila, America and prison, via 43 aliases, 89 phone lines, and 25 companies world-wide.
During that time, Marks befriended IRA, CIA, Mafia and MI6 members, claimed to be a spy and was accountable for 10% of the world’s hashish trade.
Rose’s film follows him from early school life, through his time at Oxford (when he first became involved with drugs), his rise as a drug trafficker and subsequent arrest and time spent in prison.
It features a memorable performance from Rhys Ifans, who looks, sounds and acts uncannily like the real-life Marks throughout, and recounts the audacity of many of its subject’s adventures in truly outlandish fashion.
But it’s also a curiously dull film, which meanders along and probably celebrates the life and views of Marks too blatantly – although perhaps not surprisingly given the direct involvement of Marks himself.
Stylistically, the film also suffers from a couple of odd creative choices, such as Rose’s decision to have Ifans occupy the role from school years to adulthood, and to insert several of his actors into stock footage from the time. It looks false and pulls you out of the movie.
The director’s decision to emulate the rebellious nature of its subject matter, by telling the tale solely from his perspective, also means that it casts Marks in an often heroic light – making a mockery of the attempts to catch him, and often celebrating the good luck and occasional brilliance of his repeated attempts to stay one step of the law.
But perhaps worst of all is the fact that the film struggles with a curiously laidback pacing, possibly to reflect the stoner tendencies of the subject… but lacking any real sense of urgency or ingenuity in the process.
And while Ifans does score highly in the central role, there are several performances that fail to match him.
Chloe Sevigny, as his wife, struggles with an English accent and the transition from carefree lover to frightened mother, while David Thewlis goes a little too OTT as IRA member Jim McCann. Even Christian McKay, so good as Orson Welles in Me & Orson Welles, struggles to make his mark.
The overall impression is that Mr Nice has far too many problems to be worthy of recommendation, in spite of the good work done by its charismatic leading man.
Running time: 121mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: January 31, 2011
- Buy it on DVD (Amazon)
- Buy it on Blu-ray (Amazon)
- Read our review
- Bernard Rose interview
- Howard Marks interview
- Mr Nice Photo Gallery