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Russell Brand sets out to find out how other countries are tackling their problems of drug abuse and to explore how the framework of criminalization implicit in the 'war on drugs' produces enormous harm in the treatment of addicts.
The message is worthy, but the style of the film, and the personality at the core, makes it a scruffy, unfocused documentary of limited interest and value
I don't really follow celebrity culture, and just in case you think that means I'm far too highbrow to do so, I also am pretty bad at following the other end of that spectrum either. I mention this because Russell Brand is in both of those in some ways, and in both areas I am aware of him but little more than that – for some reason I don't care for him when I have seen him, but at the same time I would struggle to specifically tell you what I have seen him in. This film of course got more attention due to his involvement, and it was this publicity that drew me to watch the film, even if it was the message that I actually wanted to hear.
In terms of that message, it is perfectly worthy and valid, and, as Brand says at the start of the film – really nothing you have not heard before. Problem with that sentence is that it is only part of the truth, because not only will you have heard all of this before, but predominately you will have heard it all done better too. Brand seems to have been identified as the key problem with the film, but for me the whole approach and tone of the film is off – okay it is off because it is modeled around the Brand brand (if you will) but this is not a solo project, there are other people who should have evened this out, not least of which is Winterbottom. The issue with the film is evident from the very start, because no matter its other faults, the film is at least consistent across its running time. It appears to be aimed at 'the people', or at least the perception of who 'the people' are. What this means in reality is that we have the 'geezer' factor turned up to 11, everything is a little bit cheeky, and things are played out in very simple terms, and with a very basic structure and approach.
For some maybe this will win you over, but personally I found it grating and patronizing – and not just Brand. To focus on the content (as we should), the film has this great point, but it makes it far too simply; getting school children to yell out like the film is a panto doesn't work, and the film not having access to people beyond security guards also doesn't work. Many other devices and specifics fall flat, and the fact we have heard this all before does tend to come across even louder – and the fact it isn't working just highlights how much better others have covered the same material, whether in documentaries or in satirical news shows. This is my fundamental problem with the film – that it doesn't make its case at all well; however there is no point in me pretending that Brand himself is not a big part of this. His style and manner here seems so insincere and patronizing. His efforts to 'speak to the people' seem too labored, and his many throwaway sentences attempting to charm just grated on me; he does appear to have good intentions, but he overplays the act of 'I'm just a simple bloke me, just a local boy like yourself mate' – for example saying he doesn't know anything about Libor when he so clearly does, as if angry ignorance is something he thinks will appeal to those watching (which maybe is true, but it still speaks to his views on the 99% when he thinks such a character is one we will appreciate). To be fair, in the film people do seem to respond to this approach, so he may well be a matter of taste.
Ultimately the film is Brand and it is hard to separate them. As such it is a film with a mostly worthy message and intent, but done in an insincere and messy fashion which seems to be trying to ingratiate itself to the populace but actually just comes off as an insincere act which at best is a bit grating, and at worst is patronizing and condescending.
4 of 9 people found this review helpful.
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