Though it begins as a slick, tongue-in-cheek guide to successful dope dealing (think: a kind of latter day "Steal This Book"), the documentary "How to Make Money Selling Drugs" masterfully evolves into something far more vital, cogent and impressive.
Writer-director-narrator Matthew Cooke looks inside the explosive, wildly lucrative drug trade and its various levels of operation and survival via such chapter headings as "Managing Your Drug Cartel" and "How to Beat an Arrest." Backed by frank interviews with a rogue's gallery of former drug dealers and addicts (including, respectively, actor-rappers Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson and Eminem), plus chats with lawyers, reporters, ex-law enforcers and such starry rights advocates as Susan Sarandon, Russell Simmons, Woody Harrelson and "The Wire" creator David Simon, Cooke creates an often-chilling portrait of a business rife with violence, corruption, contradiction as well as vast financial, racial and political implications.
But as the filmmaker unfurls the harsh, essential facts, both past and present, about America's complex relationship with drugs — along with tobacco and alcohol's longtime place in the equation — the movie gains serious power and momentum.
In the end, Cooke, who collaborated on the film with friend-producer Adrian Grenier ("Entourage"), makes a smart and compelling case for drug decriminalization and an end to the failed war on drugs, or as Cooke aptly deems it, the "war on people."
"How to Make Money Selling Drugs"
Ratings: No MPAA rating
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes
Playing at: Downtown Independent, Los Angeles.