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Cocaine Cowboys (2006)
Cocaine Cowboys is a 2006 documentary film directed by Billy Corben and produced by Alfred Spellman and Billy Corben through their Miami-based media studio Rakontur. The film explores the rise of cocaine and resulting crime epidemic that swept the American city of Miami, Florida in the 1970s and 1980s. The producers of Cocaine Cowboys use interviews with law enforcement, journalists, lawyers, former drug smugglers and gang members to provide a first hand perspective of the Miami drug war. Cocaine Cowboys chronicles the development of the illegal drug trade in Miami during the 1970s and 1980s with interviews of both law enforcement and organized crime leaders, in addition to news footage from the era. The film reveals that in the 1960s and early 1970s, marijuana was the primary import drug into the region. During the 1970s, marijuana imports were replaced by the much more lucrative cocaine imports. Drug importers reveal several of the different methods used to import the drugs into Florida. The primary methods used to import the narcotics were by boat or by air. The drug importers also reveal the complexity of their methods of importation.
The story of how the Uzi-wielding cocaine cowboys took Miami by storm obviously has plenty of traction -- how else to explain the strange popularity of the ludicrous Scarface or plasticine Miami Vice? -- but the fictional representations of the era have become so iconic and ingrained in people's minds that it's possible nobody's interested in the real story. In other words: among the real-life enactors of the Miami drug wars, as captured by Corben's camera at stultifying length here, are no Tony Montanas, not a one.
Eschewing the authorial voice, Corben opts instead for the montage effect, burying the viewers under an avalanche of TV news footage from the era, detailing the horrific public shootouts (including one involving machine guns at a crowded mall) which erupted out of nowhere at the time. The effect is not revelatory so much as it is enervating: After a time a good part of the film blurs into one long and grainy sequence of body bags and seized contraband.
Greater dramatic potential is hinted at in the interviews the filmmakers conducted with some of the Miami big-timers; unfortunately, while the access is impressive, the subjects are allowed to ramble at self-congratulatory length, shedding little light on the bigger picture. More skilled interviewers or at least a more competent editing scheme could have teased more gripping material out of the likes of Mafioso smuggler Jon Roberts and the dead-eyed Chicago gunsel Jorge 'Rivi' Ayala, but such is sadly not the case. The filmmakers were so enamored of the flash and drama of their subject (going so far as to bring in Miami Vice theme-composer Jan Hammer to contribute a horrendously synthetic score) that they never bothered to dig beneath the surface of what was a cultural shift along the lines of that which, several decades prior, had changed Chicago from a stolid industrial capital into a gangsters' shooting gallery. What was needed was the Frontline approach; what is provided, sadly, is Brian de Palma Lite.
Aka City Made of Snow.