Director Matthew Cooke’s documentary-slash-mock infomercial-slash-fake video game tip guide How to Make Money Selling Drugs is one of the most off beat and irreverent takes on a serious political, economic, and social issue to come around in quite some time. Thankfully for all the potentially smug stylistic choices, Cooke has done more than his fair share of research to create a playful tone that’s just chilling and cynical enough (in a good way) to make sure that people are listening to him.
A literal play-by-play of how to start off in the drug game from the corners to the cartels, Cooke looks at the different levels of success and the amount of work it takes to become a successful pusher of illegal or otherwise controlled substances. Focusing predominantly on weed and coke (with a little bit on pharmaceuticals and the farce of legalized drugs like nicotine and alcohol introduced late in the film), Cooke talks to those who have lived the lives of big time players and made it out on the other side with varying degrees of success.
There’s Bobby Carlton, a man who has been stabbed, beaten, and cheated death numerous times, but was making $50,000 a year by the time he hit 18. Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson pops up to talk about how the friends of his deceased mother forced him to break up and 8-Ball and sell it to survive. The REAL Freeway Rick Ross (not rappers Freeway OR Rick Ross), a notorious kingpin and almost backhanded community advocate, shows up to talk about getting pinched only when crooked cops planted evidence on him. David Simon shows up to talk about crooked cops, good cops show up to talk about bad guys, former NARCs show up talking about snitching on crooked cops on behalf of dealers, and an expert on snitches all turn up to give a thoughtful overview of one of the biggest private sectors of the American economy.
That’s not to say that Cooke’s film is lauding the drug trade, but that he interestingly structures the film to show all of the positives before getting around to the most crushing of negatives (imprisonment, loss of humanity, addiction to your own product). This element is a bit out of sorts when compared to the jocular tone of the rest of the film. Cooke’s own narration at times can be a bit too precious for its own good, but there’s no taking away that he’s done the research and created a film that acts not only as a bizzaro primer on how to make a grand a day, but a document serving as an indictment of a system that’s been broken for quite some time. At the very least it will give viewers who haven’t seen The Wire yet a great starting point to start watching that series and feel like a pro about everything they see.