DRUGS ON FILM - SNIFF-SNIFF! CAN YOU SMELL PEANUTS?

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Marihuana Film Poster
On the 1st of February, 2016, Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario is being released on Blu-ray, DVD, and all other notable digital platforms, showcasing a visceral, unflinching portrayal of the war against drugs. But as we all know, this critically applauded film isn't the first to examine the cause and effect of getting high. There are a number of other films that's done a similar thing. Here, check out some of them with this filmic run-down.




Sicario (2015)Sicario (2015)

With films like Incendies and Prisoners under his belt, Denis Villeneuve had already marked himself out as a director with something to say. With Sicario, though, he goes one step further in accusing all sides of the war on drugs of being as morally grey as one another. Emily Blunt delivers a blistering turn as an initially naive FBI agent sucked into -- and unceremoniously spat out of -- the never-ending stand-off between ‘good’ and ‘evil’, whilst Josh Brolin proves that when it comes to the CIA, you need more than one shade of grey within that stand-off. Yet it’s the BAFTA-nominated Benicio Del Toro who really shines in this flick, playing a gun for hire with his own unique insight into a socio-political landscape blighted by the cartels.


Sabotage (2014)
Sabotage (2014)

Who says that all films about drugs need to be considered dramas with something to say? Sabotage took that particular rule book and tore it up as part of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s movie star rehab plan, following his tenure as a politician. As John ‘Breacher’ Wharton, the Austrian Oak has never been more grizzled or more morally grey, as he plays a DEA agent who has to figure out who’s killing his team of crooked compatriots after their pension plan drugs haul goes AWOL.


Dallas Buyer’s Club (2013)
Dallas Buyer’s Club (2013)

Matthew McConaughey quite literally is Ron Woodruff in Jean-Marc Vallée’s Oscar-winning drama about a very different side of the drugs trade. McConaughey’s breathtaking physical transformation into the stick-thin and dangerously ill Woodruff arguably took some focus away from what is nevertheless a remarkable film. But then again, after years of fluffy rom-coms, who can blame him for wanting to get noticed? The film itself is a different flavor of drug movie with the Woodruff’s ‘dealer’ painted as a hero who starts playing the system to supply AIDS patients with the drugs they desperately need. The anti-Pusher, if you will.


Pusher (2012)
Pusher (2012)

Nicholas Winding Refn produces a remake of his own film (originally a 1996 Danish thriller starring Zlatko Buric) which follows a London-based drug dealer whose life spirals out of control following the seizure of his cocaine supply, resulting in his attempts to raise the cash to repay his unforgiving supplier. Brendan Coyle delivers a career-best performance as the unlucky dealer, despite the remake not offering any surprises against Refn’s own original. Also showing up for the ride are people like Paul Kaye and go-to tough guy, Mem Ferder.


Traffic (2000)
Traffic (2000)

Steven Soderbergh diverted his gaze to the war on drugs back in 2000 with a convoluted, considered, and riveting look at just how complicated the situation is. Traffic stars Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta Jones, Don Cheadle, and that man again, Del Toro, in a layered affair that examines everyone from the cartel members through to a prominent high court judge who realizes his daughter isn’t just smoking cigarettes behind the bike sheds, tut-tut-tut! When it was released the film was congratulated for examining the issues, and even stands up 15 years later. But still, there’s less moral ambiguity going on here compared to Villeneuve’s more incisive, nuanced treatise.


Requiem For A Dream (2000)
Requiem For A Dream (2000)

Darren Aronofsky’s unutterably bleak examination of what being a drug addict actually means arguably vies with Trainspotting for making (taking) drugs look like just the worst thing ever. The film follows Jared Leto’s drug-addicted waster, his girlfriend (Jennifer Connelly) and friend (Marlon Wayans) as they do whatever they can to maintain their destructive habits. Limbs, dignity, and futures are lost in the most crap-inducing fashion, yet it is the film’s more domestic drug abuse -- the diet pill addiction Ellen Burstyn develops as a direct result of her loneliness -- that perhaps hits home the hardest, leaving most audiences staring at the floor and determined never to take a painkiller ever again.


Blow (2001)
Blow (2001)

Blow examines the life and times of one George Jung, the man single-handedly credited with establishing the cocaine market in America during the 1970s. It’s also one of the last times Johnny Depp delivered a ‘straight’ performance (as Jung) before taking a decade’s worth of roles that gradually turned him into a character actor. Penelope Cruz provides able support as Jung’s complicit wife, and the cast is rounded out by Run, Lola, Run’s Franka Potente and Ray Liotta, himself with a wealth of experience when it comes to playing shady characters who take a salary from South America.


Trainspotting (1996)
Trainspotting (1996)

Until Danny Boyle’s seminal Trainspotting came along (by way of Irvine Welsh’s equally important novel), British depictions of drug abuse had mostly been left to Hooray Henries hoovering up the old white stuff on the kitchen table, or alternatively, Sherlock Holmes knocking back a bit of opium between violin swings. Oh, and then there's Zammo from Grange Hill. Kind of. Although to be entirely fair to the British drug film scene, it's pretty safe to say that most movie audiences had never seen drug addiction done like this before. With career-defining turns from Ewan MacgregorRobert Carlisle, and Jonny Lee Miller, the film is at once a jet black comedy and a heart-breaking drama with characters you root for no matter what.


Drugstore Cowboy (1989)
Drugstore Cowboy (1989)

Darren Aronofsky might have created the ultimate bleak modern morality tale in Requiem For A Dream, but Gus Van Sant was ploughing that furrow years before with the criminally underrated Drugstore Cowboy. Setting its examination of addiction in the 1970s, this drama stars a never-better Matt Dillon as a small-town drifter, who, along with his girlfriend (Kelly Lynch) passes from town to town with the sole intention of hitting local drugstores after hours for a fix. Straightforward in its examination of our not unsympathetic anti-heroes, the film still has a powerful emotional left hook, thematically showing the isolation and segregation seen in Van Sant’s subsequent films.



SICARIO is out on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital platforms, from February 1st, 2016, courtesy of Lionsgate Home Entertainment.

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