Ho Hum! Get ready for a lot of complaining.
I was really looking forward to seeing Mr Nice because Howard Marks is one of those iconic ‘rogue’ characters that I know a little bit about but not enough and was interested to see his reign of drug trafficking/ spy-gaming put up on screen. Having dipped in and out of his books he is clearly someone who doesn’t take life too seriously and has made the most out of his rollercoaster journey of legend.
What a shame then that I endured this Rhys Ifans starring, Bernard Rose written and directed 2 hour long meander of a film that does not in any way do justice to the reputation and myth of Mr Marks himself. If anything it makes him seem like a generic stoner (although maybe that’s the point?).
To the dissect-mobile!
Let’s start small: The first time Howard meets his eventual wife Judy (played with emotional abandon by Chloe Sevigny) she remarks that he looks like a drug dealer. HOW CONVENIENT! What a delightfully apt turn of phrase to say to a person who will eventually become a drug dealer. Because in my book of references his appearance looks like a Rockstar/Stoner/Artist/Drug Dealer/Homeless person/… anybody basically who is tall and thin, has a deep voice, wears sunglasses indoors and has long scruffy hair. My point is that that line could’ve been changed to fit whatever career choice the ACTUAL Howard Marks had chosen to make had his life then been turned into a movie anyway and as a result the line, and by association the movie, rang a little hollow.
Moving on to Mr Ifans now and first let me say that I actually don’t mind Rhys Ifans. I wouldn’t say he is particularly talented but he certainly plays to type and I think he is effective in that style and more power to him. However therein lies the problem for Mr Nice as in this film he is playing a real person. Ifans performance here feels no different to the characters he plays in The Boat That Rocked, Enduring Love, Notting Hill or The 51st State to name a few. They are all slightly groovy types, who don’t care about ‘The Man’ and sound a little bit out of it. They are cocksure yes, but not necessarily firing on all cylinders. Early on in Mr Nice we learn that Howard was actually quite a clever little duckling, but once Marks grows older and plies his illegal trade it ceases to be communicated to the audience as he rides his booming wave on luck and happenstance more than skill. I feel that although Ifans’ performance is actually very good and probably worth some credit, it will never obtain it because it is TOO similar to everything else he has done and as such his Marks does not feel like a real person, just a caricature.
What next? Oh yes, I would love it if someone could tell me if Mr Nice is supposed to be a comedy or a drama. Because sometimes it gets quite intense and serious and other times it’s a stoner farce. I don’t mind a drama/comedy hybrid when it’s done well, but this one’s strokes were just way too broad.
Next in the firing line- duration! I expected Mr Nice to be about 90 minutes long. I expected this so much that I bought (I say bought) a ticket to see another movie starting after it. But things ran on. And on. And on. Maybe I was wrong to expect it to be a bit shorter, but knowing an (admittedly little) amount about Howard Marks life story I didn’t expect it go around in so many circles. Marks is in and out of prison, having meetings and setting up deals all over the place and his life goes through so many sequential ‘stages’ that it just gets boring and tedious. It might not be realistic to leave things out of a biography, but I think Mr Nice might’ve benefitted from losing about 20 years from this life story. As it was I didn’t see the second film in my double feature AND I missed the last 5 minutes of Mr Nice because I had to go and feed the meter= Annoying.
And finally I shall say a small piece about the supporting cast. Let us skip Chloe Sevigny (yet another female role given too much screen time to appease the demographics without first being written well) and cut straight to the bit parts played by some pretty recognisable faces and top acting talent; Crispin Glover turns up for a spell as a suited and booted hippy; Omid Djalili is typically impressive as Marks’ connection to the Middle East hashish industry; David Thewlis and Andrew Tiernan show up as IRA heavies; and even Christian McKay shows up as an old Oxford school friend-turned-spy who recruits Marks for MI6. None of these roles require anything other than stereotypical performances from the actors, and none of the characters have any depth whatsoever. That is unless we’re supposed to infer depth given that we know they are based on real people. Even worse is the fact that none of them get enough screen time for the actors to really leave an impression on the film or steal a scene, and so it seems like a complete waste of talent. Christian McKay’s performance is the most annoying of these given that having stolen the show from underneath Zach Efron (of all people) as Orson Welles already this year, he surely should be getting meatier parts by now that warrant more than a weekends worth of shooting and 5 lines of dialogue. It is utterly disappointing.
Much like the film itself.
I wish I was recommending Mr Nice, but integrity won’t let me do it. Avoid.