How to Make Money Selling Drugs | Review
Cooke’s Holding, But Packing Light In Drug Exposé
Matthew Cooke pitches it just as urban legend purveys – anyone can make a living slinging sedatives and stimulants. All that’s necessary is a basic understanding of arithmetic, a hefty lot of self confidence and a slight lack of respect for the law. But like any burgeoning professional, you’ve gotta start at the bottom rung and work your way up – in this case, from the corner to the cartel. In How To Make Money Selling Drugs, Cooke takes a cynical look at the business of dealing and the government’s extreme counterpoint as the wasteful war on drugs, explaining in simple terms and arcade level structure what it takes to move from foot soldier to billion dollar business man with his provocative but shallow debut doc.
Spearheaded by a collection of convicted ex-drug lords and import experts of varying locality, basic tips and tricks of the trade evolve out of aural stories of hitting the pavement as teens birthed from broken homes with broken banks. From the gang banging streets of Los Angeles to the sun kissed water south of Florida, all the way up through the frozen seas bordering Alaska, drugs flow free as the water they’re smuggled upon, but it’s the free flowing cash that lures people into the biz. Without family based moral discipline and the hopes that come with a formal education, many turn to drug dealing not only as a way to make ends meet, but as their passport from destitution to infinite indulgence. And when legitimate work is unavailable, why not make a few grand a day dealing dope or multiples of that selling coke? For many, the lucrative rewards and pervasive respect are worth the risk of extended jail time. Cooke’s handful of subjects lived it up for years before they’re own particular brand of downfall, but the director doesn’t dally on their personal struggles, instead using their varied testimony to legitimize his exploration of ethics and architecture within the underground industry.
Though tongue in cheek about its forthright campaign for dealing drugs, the film’s true motive rests in league with Eugene Jarecki’s far superior drug policy exposé, The House I Live In. But where Jarecki grounded his film firmly in vast and devastating truths that stem from personal memory, Cooke instead leads us up the ladder of entrepreneurial drug trafficking with a smirk and a wink until finally allowing the harsh realities of legal repercussions to surface in the final quarter. In a last ditch effort to legitimize the film, the help of decorated ex-police officers, famed lawyers and The Wire creator, David Simon, are all enlisted to summarize the lengthy list of current consequences that ravage the American economy as a result of overly harsh repercussions in drug-related convictions, but the plunge into solemn territory is too little too late, especially when he throws in Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson and Marshall ‘Eminem’ Mathers for nothing more than that ever so bankable hip-hop name candy.
Sure, 50 Cent made a name for himself repping the fact that he is a product of the drug life and Eminem found himself with a life threatening pill problem of his own, but neither fit perfectly into the polished product that is How To Make Money Selling Drugs. Matthew Cooke’s surface level look at drug culture and the unreasonable repercussions that ruin lives beyond repair, waste billions of federal tax dollars and force police officers to focus on reciprocal drug arrests rather than crimes worth pursuing is a missed opportunity. His experience as Amy Berg’s editor has lent itself to propulsive, vibrant storytelling, but by treating his subject as farce Cooke looses sight of his true intentions and leaves his audience as empty as the junkies at the bottom of his dope dealing pyramid scheme.