WINNER: TOP 25 LIBERTARIAN FILMS
A New York City politician who campaigns on a platform of drug decriminalization encounters deadly opposition from the Mafia. [Dir: Francesco Rosi/ James Belushi, Mimi Rogers, Joss Ackland/100 min/ Thriller/ France, Italy/ Filmed in English/ Legalize Drugs]
“Do you believe drugs are bad? —Yes. Do you want your children to take drugs? —No. Do you think we should shoot the drug pushers? —Yes, yes, yes! [By wording the questions in that way] we work [the public] up to give us an answer that we want, so that everybody can go on making money out of something that, if it were legal, would not be that big a deal.” Thus the cynical politician at the center of this story explains how he and his fellow politicos manipulate the voting public to support the “War on Drugs.” But then a terrible thing happens to him. In a moment of uncharacteristic integrity, he attempts to live up to his own campaign promise “to make a difference.” Realizing that the public could just as easily be manipulated to do what’s right—i.e., decriminalize drugs—he runs on such a platform.
Friends and family begin cautioning that his platform may place him in danger. Organized crime makes too much money on the illegal trade to allow such a change. He ignores these warnings and the next thing you know, the Mafia threatens him with death if he doesn’t abandon his decriminalization platform. Will he give in or will he resist? Even he isn’t sure of the answer to that question until the very end.
In the course of these events, most of the right arguments are made, although the theme here is only decriminalization with some state control, not complete legalization. Nonetheless, it’s very refreshing to see a film that correctly identifies drug prohibition as the root cause of so many modern woes. One of the best parts of the film is a brief speech by the lead Mafia boss, who explains matter-of-factly the symbiotic relationship between government and organized crime: “Governments invent prohibitions so that they can control the people. Then we [the Mafia] give the people what they want. That is why the governments need us, and why we need them.”
That’s an unusually intelligent observation and it’s typical of this unusually intelligent film, which benefits from an insightful screenplay coauthored by Gore Vidal. It’s also an effective thriller that conveys with some originality the subtle danger surrounding the politician. Much of this Franco-Italian production is shot in Palermo, Sicily, so it has an interesting Old World feel. Also listed as To Forget Palermo and Dimenticare Palermo.