Director: Matthew Cooke
Watch online: iTunes / Film 4oD / Virgin Movies on Demand / Sky Store
Ever since Breaking Bad, Heisenberg – The One Who Knocks – has become something of an icon. A self-made drug baron from an everyday father, his face is everywhere, from t-shirts to mugs and tattoos, reminding us that if a chemistry teacher from an Albuquerque high school can do it, anyone can. Matthew Cooke’s documentary How to Make Money Selling Drugs outlines in simple steps exactly how that’s possible, buying into the same Scarface myth while deconstructing it completely.
It helps if you’re in the US: America consumes 40 per cent of the world’s cocaine, we soon learn. Figures flash up in bright red letters, subtitles pop out of the screen during vox pops, while every stage is presented with a computer-y sound effect. Level 1. Level 2. It’s like a game – which only makes it more disturbing.
Interviews range from DEA officers and former dealers to Curtis “50 Cents” Jackson, whose candid account of his childhood, left to make ends meet himself, adds a gut-punching edge to the facts. Another South Californian reveals that he got hold of his first bag of marijuana in 9th grade.
David Simon, creator of HBO’s The Wire, also appears to deliver some harder hitting truths. He contributed to Eugene Jarecki’s documentary The House I Live in last year too, creating a double-bill of non-fiction that sheds light on the shady side of modern America. That, The Wire, Breaking Bad, this; it’s telling that the drug problem has become a big enough concern to be tackled in so many different art forms (and people) over the last few years.
As the stages progress, we eventually reach the Secret Level. “All you need is a drug war”, Cooke declares, revealing the opportunities for profit that have been opened up since the government first outlawed drugs, driving the market under the radar. Under George Bush Snr., spending on the drug way reached $1.9 billion per year.
The fight against the illegal substances is only getting bigger, pushing the money-making margins even wider. Cops are wise to the potential, too; if they have two suitcases, one with drugs and one with money, the procedure is simple: follow the money. Need a new vehicle? Find a dealer and seize one.
With narcotics so entrenched at every layer of society, How to Make Money Selling Drugs feels more prescient than ever. While some recent documentaries have impressed on subject matter alone, though, Cooke’s direction is what gives the film its power. Throughout the swiftly edited 90 minutes, he throws up loads of fascinating, surprising statistics, but by presenting everything as a useful guide rather than a straight investigative movie, the film becomes an unexpectedly entertaining watch. “Name innocent people”, it helpfully suggests. “Demand witness protection”. Every chuckle is followed by a thought-provoking pause.
After Breaking Bad and The Wire, How to Make Money Selling Drugs is a question people may well be asking, whether they’re family men or people growing up in Baltimore. If a chemistry high school teacher can do it, anyone can. This documentary proves it – and that makes its satirical message even shocking.
The film’s release on Boxing Day may seem strange, but after a post-Christmas dinner nap, How to Make Money Selling Drugs is guaranteed to wake you up.