SXSW FILM 2010
By Don Simpson | March 25, 2010
Director: Bernard Rose
Writer: Bernard Rose
Starring: Rhys Ifans, Chloe Sevigny, David Thewlis, Luis Tosar, Crispin Glover, Omad Djalili, Jamie Harris, Christian McKay, Elsa Pataky, and Jack Huston
Mr. Nice is a rather oddball bio-pic (based on the 1996 autobiography Mr. Nice) about Howard Marks (Rhys Ifans) – a school teacher, drug smuggler, money launderer, spy, author, music promoter, loyal husband and loving father…among other things. Marks, who at his pinnacle was said to have controlled 10% of the international hashish market, achieved worldwide notoriety as a drug smuggler thanks to his arrest by the D.E.A. of the United States and several other high-profile court trials. Marks spent a total of seven years in prison for his crimes; he has since become an avid campaigner for the legalization of cannabis. It all boils down to Mr. Nice (the title being one of Marks’ many aliases) being a tale of a good man who just happened to also be a very prominent and skilled drug dealer.
Visually, Mr. Nice is…well…very nice indeed. This is a stunning period piece, taking place primarily in the 1960s and 70s. The set design, costumes and cinematography are pure eye candy. Writer-director-editor Bernard Rose (Candyman, Immortal Beloved) also seamlessly utilizes archival stock footage to significant effect. The direction itself is overtly stylized and manic (not necessarily a bad thing). There are a lot of highs and lows (reminiscent somewhat of Blow) – the highs are a lot of fun, but the lows are really bland and meandering. I definitely felt the emotional rollercoaster ride that Rose was taking me on, but I’m not sure it worked for me. I think all of the ups and downs (and more specifically the changes in pacing and tone) just made Mr. Nice feel dreadfully inconsistent.
Overall, Ifans’ (a childhood pen-pal and now friend of the real Howard Marks) performance as Marks from age 18 to age 40 is great (though the effect of Ifans playing an 18-year old is comically surreal). Rarely a leading man, Ifans effortlessly carries this film. I do not, however, understand the casting of Chloe Sevigny (admittedly, the initial reason I chose to see Mr. Nice) as Judy – the woman who eventually becomes Mrs. Marks. Sevigny’s British accent is all over the place, and sometimes it disappears completely – and that bugs me like all hell. Sorry, Chloe…but I think you just need to stick with your natural voice.