Billy Corben’s documentary Cocaine Cowboys is a raucous two-hour tour through cocaine-laced, bullet-riddled, Miami Vice-era Miami. The tour, guided by the drug dealers, drug users, money launderers, lawyers and corrupt cops (who make Serpico-era New York look like Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood), is very long and tends to focus on the gritty details of this deal or that murder and short-shrift the larger, more pervasive issue: that a modern American city was completely governed by the drug trade.
There are three main interviewees. First is Mickey Munday, a vaguely Crocodile Dundee-like pilot who smuggled over ten tons of cocaine from Colombia to Miami. Next is Jon Roberts, a greased-hair, Armani-wearing ex-dealer who made over $2 billion pushing coke for the Colombian Medellin cartel. Third, and most interesting, is the incarcerated, Jorge “Rivi” Ayala, a viciously accomplished baby-faced hit man for Colombian drug-lord and major psychopath Griselda Blanco. All three seem intermittently proud of their life’s work.
Cocaine Cowboys is, at heart, a portrayal of sheer excess. Money, houses, weapons, drugs, cars and human lives were all utterly disposable, because there was just so freakin’ much — all of it easily accessible outside of any law.
Miami owes its renaissance as a “cultural” city (or at least visitable city with a cool skyline) to the drug wars of the 70s and 80s. To understand how and why, the film is definitely worth the attention it asks of you. The filmmakers have tackled this old cliché of a tale in a new illuminating way. Just don’t see it unless you’re ready to kiss your ignorance-is-bliss days of bumping to Will Smith’s ‘Welcome to Miami’ goodbye. Opens October 27