Staff Pick: “How To Make Money Selling Drugs” raises serious questions about broken system

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From the July 4, 2013 edition

The documentary “How To Make Money Selling Drugs” has an attention-grabbing approach to go with its attention-grabbing title.

The multi-faceted look at the illegal drug trade in America frames itself as the same sort of hyped-up how-to infomercial you might see on late-night TV.

But make no mistake. This is an intelligent, thoughtful film that raises serious questions about a broken system.

Director Matthew Cooke talks to the people who know about the subject of the title, from low-level dope slingers to former drug kingpins to DEA agents. Interviewees include rapper and former dealer 50 Cent, “The Wire” creator David Simon and drug policy reform activist Susan Sarandon.

There’s also a brief but headline-grabbing interview with Marshall Mathers (better known as rapper Eminem, of course) as he bluntly discusses a secret addiction to painkillers that threatened his life.

Some may find the flippant style of the doc to be off-putting. It’s got a hyper graphical style that treats the drug trade like a video game and cheerfully offers violent tips for the trade.

But its underlying message is for reform. The documentary lays out a cycle of violence and endless Federal drug war money that perpetuates itself, and this film is a call for that cycle to end.