" I always wanted to be a criminal I guess. Not this big a one. "
— Martin Sheen, Badlands

MRQE Top Critic

The Great Train Robbery

(review...)

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Sex, Drugs, & Taxation is a strong film but there are some awkward scenes that are quite offensive.

I understand that this is a biopic, and that the co-protagonist himself was an offensive jerk. But whether you blame the protagonist or the filmmaker, a couple of scenes cross the boundaries of good taste, and I might have a hard time recommending Sex, Drugs, & Taxation to just anyone.

Tax-Free Sex and Drugs

Only one of these men gets in trouble with the Danish people
Only one of these men gets in trouble with the Danish people

If you lived in Denmark, you would probably know who this movie is about: Simon Spies (Pilou Asbæk) is a Howard Hughes-like businessman and Mogens Gilstrup (Nicolas Bro) is his friend and advisor.

In translation, their wheelings and dealing are a bit hard to follow, and maybe director Christoffer Boe gives too many details. Suffice it to say that they are calculating, risk-taking business partners. They don’t always win, but they are smart enough to learn from their mistakes. Pretty soon they are running the largest travel agency (and associated holidaymaking businesses) in Denmark.

Asbæk gives Spies a squeaky lisp that grates, but his worst qualities are not just superficial. Spies drinks, takes drugs, cheats at business, uses women, and is constantly bored with life. His worst qualities show when it comes to sex. As a publicity stunt he invites the tabloid photographers to a bar to watch him fuck ten women. Much later, after he has supposedly matured and wants to settle down, he cluelessly resorts to a similar gimmick to search for a wife.

At an afternoon corporate party he hires a woman to perform oral sex to give him an erection, which he then brandishes at a caged gorilla. As a sop to the offended party, he offers a handful of cashews. This, he says, illustrates how he wants his employees treated.

His partner Mogens is a fiscal conservative and a family man, but not a social conservative — at least not enough to scold Spies. If tabloid pictures of Spies’ erection sell cruises, then Mogens is okay with that. When Spies says he wants to explore psychedelic drugs, Mogens suggests he create a Psychedelic Trust, so that it’s all tax-deductible. While Spies wants excitement and happiness, Mogens’ big dream is to pay zero taxes. (That’s probably much harder to do in Denmark than here in the U.S.A.) Bro plays up Mogens’ buffoonish physical qualities. Overweight, he sports cheap suits, receding greasy hair, and a large overbite.

Provocative Lives

Ironically, as Danish citizens might know, Spies’ horrendous behavior is more accepted that Mogens’ anti-tax stance (and, oh yeah, Mogens was a racist too). The movie trails off just after Mogens gets in serious trouble with the government after flaunting his zero-tax bill. To fight the charges, Mogens runs for office and wins.

The film takes place over several decades. The age makeup is noticeable, but good. The episodic storyline is helped with creative editing that joins disparate scenes with similar objects or settings, for example, cutting from one scene of people at a table to a completely different table, framed similarly. The two main characters have ups and downs, rather than arcs, but Boe is able to tell a coherent story as he follows these friends through life.

All the bad behavior is packaged as dark comedy, and for me it basically succeeds, though I found it hard to laugh at Spies’ worst behavior. As I said, Sex, Drugs, & Taxation walks a fine line. You should anticipate where you would draw that line before you buy a ticket.

The protagonists are no angels, and Director Boe, who wrote the screenplay with Simon Pasternak, is deliberately provocative by highlighting their bad behavior. Whether he goes too far will spark many post-movie debates.