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Friday, 29 July 2011 00:00

"Mr. Nice" Isn't

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Written by Diane Carson
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The ironically titled Mr. Nice charts the rise and fall, and rise and fall of infamous, global drug smuggler Howard Marks. Marks stole a real-life Mr. Nice’s (pron. Neece) identity and enjoys the joke of pronouncing it “nice.” Anyone who finds that terribly clever may appreciate writer/director Bernard Rose’s adaptation of Marks’ autobiography.

The rest of us will tire of the superficial approach to an unattractive person’s life. Marks’ occasional, interpretive voiceover narration fails to inject any narrative complexity or any engaging ethical struggles despite some intriguing government involvement that remains an unexplored subplot. Instead, Marks travels quickly from his South Wales village to Oxford where he accidentally and, with no apparent second thoughts, joins the pot-smoking/LSD crowd. No insights accumulate as he moves from there to smuggling from Germany for an Oxford classmate and, soon, more international criminal activity. Involvement with the IRA amounts to little more than an opportunistic move but fanatical IRA operative Jim McGann, as played by David Thewlis, brings energy to those scenes, energy too often lacking elsewhere.

Cinematically, there’s little arresting footage though the opening scenes’ transition from black-and-white to sepia and into color is effective coming, as it does, with entry into the drug culture. However, the film’s dominant palate is dull browns, grays and subdued colors with too few, welcome splashes of red. There are some attempts to visualize drug-induced states through asymmetrical compositions and obvious rear-screen projection. A circular organization adds filmic symmetry with Marks seen, from behind, entering and addressing a theater audience after he was released from U.S. prison in 1995.

As Marks, Rhys Ifans is content to offer a largely two-dimensional character, too subdued for me to ever care about him despite manufactured attempts to inject suspense periodically. Director Rose wastes Chloe Sevigny’s talent as Marks’ lover and, eventually, his wife. She’s relegated to agonizing when things don’t go well and smiling sweetly and supportively, but her character has few well-written scenes and even fewer substantive ones. 

Here and there, Mr. Nice advocates decriminalization of drugs, but it does the topic no favors. I want to advocate for more interesting films on the topic. Mr. Nice doesn’t qualify; it isn’t a compelling movie. At a Landmark Theatre.

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