The question posed by the title of Matthew Cooke’s documentary seems to have a simple answer: Sell drugs. Lots of them. But this dope dealers’ DIY manifesto isn’t quite the illustrated instruction manual it sardonically promises to be, as Cooke talks to many a former pusher, from legendary kingpin “Freeway” Rick Ross to small-timer 50 Cent. When clips from The Wire and pointed commentary from the show’s creator, David Simon, start popping up, it’s clear the film is trying to examine the allure of illicit commerce rather than exploit it—or at least a little of both.
As he works his way up the ladder from street-corner slinger to cartel king, Cooke uncovers a structural evolution that parallels the development of multinational corporations, a world where menial laborers take the most risks and bosses run games on both sides. Mandatory minimums trap small fish and innocent bystanders behind bars, while their employers trade accumulated knowledge for reduced charges. Perhaps the greatest illustration of the drug war’s lunacy is Barry Cooper, a former narcotics interdiction officer who grew disillusioned with staging violent “no-knock” raids based on flimsy pretexts; he now works to trip up cops who cross the line, and has a series of videos called Never Get Busted! His existence is a gift to the movie. In a more sensible world, he wouldn’t exist at all.
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