Mr Nice
dir-scr Bernard Rose
prd Luc Roeg
with Rhys Ifans, Chloe Sevigny, David Thewlis, Luis Tosar, Crispin Glover, Jack Huston, Omid Djalili, Jamie Harris, Christian McKay, Elsa Pataky, Andrew Tiernan, Ken Russell
release US Mar.10 sxsw, UK 8.Oct.10
10/UK 2h01
Mr Nice
Likeable anarchist: Ifans

sevigny thewlis glover
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Mr Nice The life of notorious drug smuggler Howard Marks hits the big screen in a lively, fiercely well-made biopic that never condemns drugs as its story spirals through the decades. It also features Ifans' best-ever performance.

Born in a rugby-mad Welsh mining town, Howard Marks (Ifans) knew he didn't fit in and proved it by getting into Oxford against the odds. There he immediately falls into the early-1960s brainy/druggy crowd, dealing marijuana but never anything harder. Despite efforts to go straight, he continually returns to trafficking, arguing that it's not a crime to break an immoral law. But his associations with a notorious IRA terrorist (Thewlis) and a rule-bending Indian businessman (Djalili) attract the attentions of a tenacious American agent (Tosar).

Marks' life is extremely cyclical, which leaves the film a somewhat repetitive series of women, drug deals, clean-up attempts, arrests and court cases. The film takes its title from Marks' falsified identity as Donald Nice, under which he lived quietly with his wife (Sevigny) and kids until the law caught up with them. But the most intriguing element is how MI6 worked with Marks to keep an eye on the IRA, which had the smuggling network he needed.

In other words, this is a film that blurs moral lines while vividly capturing the zeitgeist. Writer-director Rose inventively evokes settings by recreating period movie styles and blending in stock footage from the times. It's a simple but clever trick that puts Marks' actions sharply in context, including the free-love 60s and Reagan's 80s war on drugs ("How do you declare war on a plant?"). This also lets the action zip around the world from Kabul to Indiana.

It's also sometimes bewildering, with a large number of characters and situations. But at the centre Ifans delivers a magnetic, robust performance that's both funny and surprisingly introspective. His hilarious interaction with the wonderfully prickly Thewlis is the best thing about the film. And all of the actors invest a gleeful energy that makes it sometimes rather hyperactive, but also a lot of fun. Yet when things get emotional, we really feel it. And the overriding comment on drugs is something that has needed to be said for a long time.

cert 18 themes, language, drugs, sexuality, violence 22.Jun.10 eiff

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