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Cocaine Cowboys Review

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Documentary charting the rise to power of Colombian drug barons in ’80s Miami, which sparked a wave of violence the like of which was last seen during the Prohibition era in Chicago. Remarkably, given the nature of the business, many of the participants t

★★★★★

Floridian filmmaker Billy Corben’s scattershot documentary mainlines into the bloody, cash-crazy years of the Sunshine State’s cocaine wars - and the ’80s Miami it portrays is considerably grittier than the one inhabited by Crockett and Tubbs.

Corben introduces his narrators early on: Jon Roberts and Mickey Munday, two convicted drug traffickers whose CVs could easily have fallen out of The Big Book Of ’70s Bad Guys, lead us through the next decade of blinding fabrics and serious facial furniture. Corben bombards the screen with waves of archive footage that, backed by some processed synth-noodling, puts you slap-bang on the beachfront, piña colada in hand. He ushers in tales of ingenious smuggling methods, Colombian cartel crazies and enough white powder to fuel the rapacious appetite of every party animal in America - Roberts and Munday made such colossal profits, they were forced to bury huge bags of cash in the former’s back yard.

Despite the sense of invincibility felt by the major players (perhaps predictably, given their product), things soon collapse. With frenetic editing - from talking heads, to newsreel, to speedboat - Corben powers into the second half of the story with wild abandon. Jorge Ayala, former hired killer and current prison inmate, recalls plugging people at the behest of Cocaine Cowboys’ most mythical and unhinged character, the notorious Griselda Blanco. Known by most as The Godmother (she named her youngest son after Michael Corleone), Blanco’s reign of terror as The Cocaine Queen of Miami was simply terrifying. Police interviewees reveal that she is believed to have murdered three husbands, her merciless nature reaching its nadir when she instructed her ‘Weekend Warriors’ to wipe out entire families. Corben is obviously fascinated by Blanco (Cocaine Cowboys II will concentrate on her murderous regime), and exposes much of her dirty work through Ayala’s mumbling recollections and a glut of grisly crime-scene snapshots.

It’s a shame Corben stretches his film to an overlong 116 minutes. The clashing colours and neon-lit vistas all become too much as the film breaks the 90-minute mark, while coverage of the shoot-outs only adds to the information overload. Still, this is a solid investigation into the real Tony Montanas of this world, and one that Crockett and Tubbs would no doubt endorse.

Fast-paced and fascinating, but a little too frenetic for its own good.

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