How to Make Money Selling Drugs (18)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner26/12/2013

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 96 mins

Stylishly directed and sharply written, this is an entertaining, informative and frequently shocking documentary that reaches a number of depressing conclusions.

What's it all about?
Co-written and directed by Matthew Cooke, How To Make Money Selling Drugs is a documentary about the US drug trade that positions itself as a satirical infomercial-style How To guide. The film visualises the drug trade as a video game in which players progress from level one (Getting Started) through steps such as Private Retailer and Domestic Distributor, before making it right the way up to level seven, Cartel Lord.

At each level, the film offers interviews with people with direct experience of the drugs trade, including ex-dealers (initially presented as success stories, though the film later reveals the flipsides in each case), addicts, smugglers, lawyers, cops, journalists, victim's relatives, academics and campaigners, and actors Susan Sarandon and Woody Harrelson. Once it reaches the top level, the film introduces the game's best player, the US government, revealing exactly how invested they are in the drug trade, despite their rhetoric on The War On Drugs (e.g. marijuana is the most profitable farmed substance in the US).

The Good
The film's well-illustrated bottom line (there are several clips from US TV series The Wire, the writer/producer of which, David Simon pops up as a frequent talking head) is that there will never be a shortage of demand, so any so-called war on drugs is always going to be doomed to failure, though that never stops the US government ploughing an annual budget of over $25 billion into it each year. The film is particularly good on tracing the roots of the drug problem, looking at the banning of narcotics in the 19th century and the rise in use of both marijuana and cocaine.

The Great
As with all the best issue-based documentaries, there are several points raised in the film that are both shocking and rage-inducing. That's the case here when the film discusses prison statistics (the US has more people in prison than any other country on earth), disproportionate sentencing and the failures of the system, illustrated with the heart-breaking example of an innocent woman serving a lengthy jail term for having been present in a house during a drugs raid (Susan Sarandon appears as a campaigner on her behalf).

Worth seeing?
How to Make Money Selling Drugs is a well-made and thoroughly researched documentary that's by turns entertaining, informative and genuinely shocking. Recommended.

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Content updated: 23/04/2019 14:51

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