I knew very little about this film, or the subject of the film. Needless to say, I had no expectations. When I walked away from the film however, I didn’t have to think long to know that it was one of the more enjoyable biographical films that I have seen in quite a while.
Mr. Nice follows the path of Howard Marks (Rhys Ifans), who started out a student at Oxford but ended up being one of Europe’s most notorious drug dealers. It is pretty easy to immediately compare this one to Blow, as it follows a normal guy from drug user to drug super-dealer. What Mr. Nice has that Blow didn’t, was heart and soul. With many drug related films, the subject tends to get tied up in a downward spiral involving a drug induced demise. Howard Marks though, dealt marijuana and the only addiction that he could claim would be greed.
Getting high on your own supply has been a cliche theme in drug related biographies. Because of this, it can be easy to feel alienated from or find it difficult to like or empathize with the main character. Howard Marks is very much a real man though. You could just as easily replace drug dealing with any illegal activity because it wasn’t the drugs that caused his downfall, it was that he just couldn’t quit his trade.
Caught up in the middle of all of this, is Mark’s family. This is where the story of Mr. Nice is particularly effective. You can tell how important his family was to him, and him to them. His downfall is rather emotional. None of this would have been possible though, if it weren’t for the amazing performance of Rhys Ifans. Ifans has been known to be more of a great comical character actor. It is irregular to see him as a lead, and that is unfortunate. He brings life, humor and pain to the film. It is his performance that makes leads me to think that Mr. Nice is better than Blow. Ifans is simply brilliant as Howard Marks.
Director Bernard Rose makes some very deliberate decisions in how this film would look and travel through time. The use of stock footage provided a very unique look, and cool tone. The film moved almost like a James Bond film through the first act. Another cliche in drug films is often the trip scene. I think Rose shot the ‘under the influence’ scenes very well, as they were unique and fun. Also, the film used score throughout while many films like this tend to use period music to set the tone. All of these choices led to what I felt to be a very effective film.