"APART FROM THE preoccupation and false identity, there was little to indicate I was Britain's most wanted fugitive from justice," says Howard Marks (Rhys Ifans) in Mr. Nice. "I was very popular, and had a lot of friends. They knew who I was, and I was fully aware that any one of them could turn me in to the authorities at any time. I just bigheadedly assumed that anyone who knew me liked me, and wouldn't do such a thing."
There's little doubt that the Wales-born, Oxford-educated Marks—who, after a brief stint as a teacher, went full-on into drug smuggling, eventually controlling mind-boggling amounts of hashish—is a pretty great subject for a biopic. Based off Marks' autobiography, Mr. Nice frames his story with copious amounts of stylization and adoration; while the sometimes-disastrous consequences of Marks' dealings are never ignored, it's also nearly impossible to come out of the film not liking him quite a bit, and maybe even considering international hashish smuggling as a legitimate career option.
If Mr. Nice has a problem, it's that of most biopics: Real lives don't have narrative arcs, and largely play out as a series of repetitive incidents, some of which go places and some of which don't. And so it goes: Here's Marks scheming; here's Marks having lots of sex with his wife (Chloë Sevigny); here's Marks getting (maybe?) recruited as a spy for MI-6; here's Marks running about with dubious colleagues like the IRA's Jim McCann (David Thewlis) and an obnoxious California smuggler, Crispin Glover with a Beard (Crispin Glover with a beard). There are ups, and downs, and more ups and downs, until it all peters out in a blur of smoke and cash and sex and panic. Ifans, Thewlis, and Sevigny are all fantastic, Crispin Glover's beard is weird, and there are certainly worse ways to spend a couple of hours, even if you'll get the gist of where it's all going by the time the first act's over.