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Case Number 22494: Small Claims Court

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Mr. Nice

MPI // 2010 // 121 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Josh Rode (Retired) // October 11th, 2011

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All Rise...

You can refer to Judge Josh Rode as Mr. Bitter and Disillusioned.

The Charge

Most wanted. Most wasted.

The Case

Howard Marks tried pot in college. After getting caught, he decided it wasn't worth it and gave up drugs to become a teacher. But a desperate friend needed his help, so Howard delivered a carload of pot, which kick-started a smuggling career that spanned two decades and five continents. He was only the abettor in the drug ring, connecting with people who were already involved, such as a smuggler who put drugs in rock band speakers and a major dealer in California. He cut a deal with MI:6, only to break it, and pretended to be connected to other government agencies. He had hundreds of phone numbers and aliases, including the titular Mr. Nice. Along the way he became a British folk hero, because of his natural charm and wit.

That, at least, is how Mr. Nice, adapted from Howard's own autobiography, would like you to see things. The reality is likely much dirtier. Still, the folk hero part is accurate enough. Howard Marks has a bevy of faithful fans, including Rhys Ifan (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1), who asked the real Howard for permission to play him should a film about him ever get made. It is difficult to ascertain exactly why Howard's antics captured the public's collective imagination. People seem to be under the impression that all the things he has gone through were for the benefit of the poor, huddled masses, when the truth as told in the film is that he was a selfish prat who consistently put his own desires ahead of his family's. In the "Making Of" featurette, someone refers to him as a sort of Robin Hood, but to make that parallel work, Robin would have had to steal goods from the rich to sell to the poor at the highest possible profit margin in order to pay for his Nottingham penthouse.

Mr. Nice is a biography of sorts, so it focuses on Howard's exploits in a purely linear fashion, with little regard for conventional story tropes. Dramatic moments happen almost randomly, while scenes that seem to be leading to something big end up fizzling. For instance, at one point, while he is supposedly in hiding, Howard tells us, "I had a lot of friends. They knew who I was and I was fully aware that any one of them could turn me in at any time. I just big-headedly assumed that everyone who knew me liked me and would do no such thing." A nice setup for what seems an inevitable betrayal, but nothing immediately comes of it. He does eventually get arrested, but by the time the film gets to that stage, the context of the comment is long gone, and no turncoat is ever implicated.

This inability to harness the story's inherent drama is Mr. Nice's biggest hindrance. "Every time I cross the border (with a load of drugs)," Howard tells the audience, "I get a religious flash and an asexual orgasm." This is a prime example of every storyteller's biggest gripe: show, don't tell. The very few scenes depicting border crossings do nothing to build cinematic tension. Howard pulls up to a border station, they wave him through; not even the music acts like something momentous might happen. Later, after his face is fairly well known, he find other means, but still the film fails to create any sense of danger, tipping the audience off to the scam almost immediately.

Fortunately, the acting is fabulous. Ifan has charisma to spare and his Howard careens through life with an air of innocence and naivety that belies his illicit actions. Chloe Sevigny (Big Love) does a similarly nice job as his girlfriend, Judy. The chemistry between the two is strong enough that the fact that she chooses to stay with him despite everything is always believable. David Thewlis (London Boulevard) steals every scene he's in, as lunatic IRA gun runner Jim McCann.

The 1.85:1 anamorphic presentation is clean of defects and grain. It uses color (or, sometimes, lack of such) for some interesting visual effects, but overall the tones have a faded quality which helps keep the feel of a film from the Sixties or Seventies. The Dolby 5.1 surround sound is mostly clear as well, although neither the subwoofer nor the surrounds are used to much effect. The only extras are a "making of" featurette and a trailer for the film.

Though not a classic biopic by any means, strong performances balance out the lack of dramatic cohesion, making Mr. Nice interesting and enjoyable.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 76

Perp Profile

Studio: MPI
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• English (SDH)
Running Time: 121 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Biographical
• Comedy
• Drama
• Foreign
• Independent

Distinguishing Marks

• Featurette
• Trailer


• IMDb

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