The second installment of Kevin Booth’s “American Drug War” series is an odd blend of muckraking, polemics and fiction narrative; while it hits a number of important notes right, it can’t ever quite decide what kind of movie it is.
It opens with a funny vignette about the director’s childhood growing up in the supposedly idyllic 1960s; the dramatized narrative (depicting longstanding tensions between a conservative father and an older brother who – gasp – is found with pot) does a good job of setting the stakes for the rest of the film and for a few minutes it appears that the audience will be treated to a satirical historicism of American drug policy. But soon the film veers in an unexpected direction and loses its way as a documentary.
When it fast-forwards to the present day, the film finds a touching narrative of Cashy Hyde, a toddler who made national news when his parents decided to surreptitiously treat their cancer-stricken son with medical marijuana. The story is a sensational one and the documentary might have found its footing through its focus on Mike Hyde as a father driven to desperation through a lack of any good options. But, it gets bogged down in the details of the Hyde family narrative, straining hard to finger the drug war as young Cashy’s killer when the facts on the ground are not so clear-cut.
Even so, the film might have made a truly engaging experience out of the Cashy story – it has all the needed elements of pathos and outrage to make for outstanding cinema. Unfortunately, the film gets lost in unrelated drug war rants and unstructured interviews that distract considerably from the punch, the Cashy narrative. It’s almost as if the filmmakers originally intended to focus just on Cashy, then discovered in post-production that they didn’t have enough footage and went out to get whatever filler they could find. The result is a mishmash of talking points inexpertly shoved together; ruining what would otherwise be a great story.
Thus, while “American Drug War 2” stands out for its sincerity, its technical shortcomings shoot it in the foot. Readers are advised to try “The House I Live In,” reviewed in Cannabis Now issue 7 [link], for a much more riveting and intellectual examination of a complex topic that affects the lives of all Americans.
First appeared in Issue 9 of Cannabis Now Magazine.
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