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Cocaine Cowboys
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89 out of 110 people found the following review useful:

Excellent documentary

Author: phlnthrpy from Miami, FL
15 February 2005

Although I had the opportunity to see the unfinished version of what is sure to be an award-winning film, I was thoroughly impressed by Cocaine Cowboys. Without giving anything away, let me just say that this film refrains from the type of overly preachy or overly glorified view of the cocaine business in the late 1970's and 1980's. A nice balance of character analysis mixed with an abundance of archival data kept my interest throughout the experience...and I walked out of the theater feeling as though I really learned a great deal, not only about historical occurrences, and their impact on a few central characters or society as a whole; rather, I left the cinema with a grasp of the time period from many different perspectives: Columbian drug lords, Cocaine transporters and dealers, special task force members assigned to find the aforementioned groups, local media then and now, land developers, vacationers, car salesmen, and your average Miamian. Perspectives offered were not limited in scope. I highly recommend this film.

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29 out of 32 people found the following review useful:

This really sums it up

Author: bishop24312000 from United States
6 May 2008

This was a spectacular depiction of the life and times of Miami in it's criminal hay day. I witnessed the carnage first hand as a member of federal law enforcement and this documentary hits the nail squarely on the head. What made this really enjoyable for me is the way the director conveys the story. It is flashy and all over the place... just like Miami at that time. This was one of the few documentaries that told the stories of both sides of the struggle. The makers of this film were also able to do something very difficult. They assembled interviews from both sides of the fight. Anyone that is or was in my line of work knows how difficult it is to pull that off. Most documentaries are steeped in biased rhetoric and never give the viewer the chance to form an opinion based on all the facts. For those of us who remember those days and can be honest with ourselves and others about the gravity of that situation, it stirs up a long stored emotion. I can understand why people may find this documentary offensive or cheap, politically correct agendas have a way of skewing reason. That mentality is probably why this behavior has gone on so long. I wish I could take some of the misinformed back in time to see the reality of those times. It makes the nonsense of today look like Disney World. This documentary was an excellent depiction of the times.

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32 out of 38 people found the following review useful:

Miami's real vice

Author: lastliberal from United States
28 June 2008

Life was good in Miami in the 70s. You could blow into town with $500 dollars in your pocket, and the next things you know, you are burying millions in your bag yard, driving the hottest cars, have two or three cigarette boats, a string of race horse, and land all the way up to horse country in Marion County. You didn't think twice about dropping $20,000 on food and drink because you had so much. The Miami skyline was booming with two dozen construction cranes operating, cars were selling like hotcakes, and there was no trace of the recession that was occurring elsewhere in the US.

But, then came the 80s and there were 100,000 illegal Colombians in Miami and Castro had just flushed Cuba's toilet and dumped his criminals into the city in the Mariel boat lift. War began between the drug dealers on these two sides, and it came to the attention of Reagan and Bush that there was a problem in Miami that affected the whole country.

Long before I got attracted to Carl Hiaasen's fiction, I was reading his columns from the Miami Herald. Forget Scarface, this was the real thing. Shootouts with shotguns and automatic weapons on the streets in broad daylight. Miami had become Dodge City and Chicago during Prohibition to the tenth power.

This is the story of those two decades in Miami and the results today - a booming international city built on cocaine. The truth really is more exciting than what you see on Miami Vice.

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9 out of 11 people found the following review useful:

Vice city

Author: paul2001sw-1 ( from Saffron Walden, UK
18 March 2010

Prohibit a substance and its price will rise; with big profits available beyond the protection of the law, violence will follow. Concentrate the trade for an entire country through one city and an economic boom will combine with a murder epidemic. This was what happened to Miami with cocaine in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a story told exhilaratingly in Billy Corbern's fast-moving documentary 'Cocaine Cowboys'. It's a gripping tale, and the sheer quantity of money and death in it is truly horrifying. And yet, there's also a sense in which this film leaves a slightly sour taste in the mouth, as essentially it's a platform for a pair of major smugglers and one psychopathic killer to wax lyrical about the good old days, relatively free of moral condemnation. Still, it's an amazing story, one that seems more fit to video games than to real life, and its epilogue was the construction of much of the modern city with the proceeds from the trade.

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38 out of 70 people found the following review useful:

The real Miami Vice, or so they Claim.

Author: Maximillian Hope from United States
6 November 2006

A very stylized documentary, for a very stylized period of time, Cocaine Cowboys takes us into the world of Miami between 1970 and 1980. Using plush diversions with still images The Kid Stays in the Picture made popular, Cocaine Cowboys shows the immense changes Miami went through as it discovered the drug cocaine. Primarily interviewing three of the main names during this drug and blood soaked era, this film delves into a world filled with money, women and more importantly cocaine. As the film informs us, the Colombian Cartel made over ten billion dollars during their escapades in the Miami area, not only for themselves, but for the Americans helping them distribute.

The characters that are being interviewed, including an inmate captured for over twenty murders, never so much as flinch as they describe in detail, brutal murders. It is truly fascinating to listen to these criminals, two of which were released from prison, reminisce their achievements within crime organizations. This documentary does lack some of the more interesting comparisons director Billy Corben does brag about in his advertising for the film. Saying that it is the true story behind Scarface and Miami Vice, Cocaine Cowboys barely touches on these comparisons, and seems to bring the most interest from these brief allegories.

Despite this small short coming, the rest of the film is entertaining and educational, especially for a native Floridian like myself. I never really knew how large this business was in Miami until I watched this true rendition of the over fantasized films it claims to be the inspiration for. Explaining allot of what the American government will look away from, due to hefty drug money profits, does put a perspective on its true intentions, be it accepting drug money, ammunition money, or any type of blood money.

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50 out of 94 people found the following review useful:

Documentary Film-making as Tabloid Journalism

Author: oscar jubis ( from miami, FL
16 November 2006

Cocaine Cowboys is narrowly focused on how Miami became the drug capital and the most dangerous city in the United States during the late 1970s and the early 1980s. The film is lasciviously fascinated with the lavish lifestyle and the grotesque violence generated by the drug trade. Many obviously find such material quite fascinating. There's no denying that several anecdotes shared by dealers, smugglers, cops and veteran reporter Edna Buchanan are very amusing. Fans of TV's Miami Vice and Brian de Palma's Scarface are advised to rush to a theatre playing this film. They'll find that the real-life models of the fictional villains are even more flamboyant and vicious (the life of Griselda "the godmother" Blanco could be turned into a nifty fiction film). CocaineCowboys combines talking-head interviews with old TV footage in rat-tat-tat editing style. Shots of piles of cash and large stashes of cocaine are used as would-be punctuation marks; and there are more snapshots of bloody, perforated bodies than you've ever seen in your life.

Cocaine Cowboys is documentary film-making as tabloid journalism. Its cheap thrills provide a measure of entertainment but its reportage is devoid of context and thoughtful commentary. Director Billy Corben is a native, but as one born in 1979 his view of the material is decidedly second-hand. Towards the latter stages, Cocaine Cowboys strains to present Miami as "the city that cocaine built" by hyperbolically describing late-70s Miami as a "sleepy hamlet". There is some truth to the argument but it is a self-serving and simplistic one. Moreover, the content as presented here is likely to perpetuate certain ethnic stereotypes about the Colombian community and Cuban "marielitos" (Cubans who arrived when Castro allowed migration to the US through the port of Mariel in 1980).

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6 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

Stylish, informative and downright worrying at times.

Author: tyler-and-jack from Edinburgh.
13 September 2010

Cocaine Cowboys, directed by Billy Corben, is all about the rise of a specific section of the import business that, like it or not, helped to make Miami what it is today. The fact that back in the late 70s/early 80s it also led to so many homicides that the bodies had to be stored in a refrigerated vehicle and a front page on Time magazine exclaiming "Paradise Lost" is also sadly true.

Focusing on a dealer, a transporter and a man who became an enforcer for "The Godmother" (a figure given even more time and attention in Cocaine Cowboys 2), this documentary starts off with some unbelievable facts and anecdotes and just keeps on going from there. Movie fans will no doubt feel, as I did, that this stuff is so unbelievable it must be true. A lot of what's related here ends up putting anything fictional you may have seen in the shade.

A million miles away from the spit and polish of "Miami Vice", people made a hell of a lot of money during this time and gained a hell of a lot of power but it all came at a heavy price thanks to rivalry amongst dealers, scrutiny from the overwhelmed police and their own poor choices. While it may not be the best documentary ever made, the style helps make things more palatable and it's certainly worth seeing the once even if it may not be one to revisit.

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14 out of 24 people found the following review useful:

A Must See. Put it next to Scarface. Actually, put it in front of Scarface

Author: tommyk-9 from United States
15 May 2008

Cocaine Cowboys is a great movie. A must see for sure. Never has a viewer gotten to experience the real cocaine world until now. Interviews with a top hit-man/enforcer, a pioneer pilot, kingpin, and tons of stock footage make this film completely unique.

The sequel, Cocaine Cowboys 2 - Hustlin With The Godmother,is going to be even better. It focuses around Griselda Blanco, Rivi (the enforcer/hit-man) and a character named Charles Cosby. There is an advance screening June 20, 2008 at the CineVegas Film Festival and this time around the documentary has worldwide distribution checkout for some pictures of Griselda Blanco and Charles Cosby.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:


Author: Carlee Smith from United States
13 June 2012

I never could have guessed how intricate the cocaine industry was at this time. I was born post the cocaine era so I did not know how incredibly different the laws were during that time. This documentary gives so much insight into this high-speed world of drugs. I loved how the director allowed the members involved to tell their stories; however I wish that he had let them tell all of their stories & it was kind of jumpy when moving a narration when moving from one involved member to another would help the transition to be better understood. But now I'm hooked I wished that some of the involved members had not passed away because I have got to know more the system was so complex I want to know how it all works.

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They gotta make it into movie or TV series!

Author: filip-svacek from Czech Republic
19 September 2014

2006 Version: What I liked most about this "documentary", is that there is no voice-over that says us what to thing and it is just testimony of people who were in "the game" at the time. But when you add great editing, fantastic 80's soundtrack and footage you get story, that puts lot of movies like Scarface to shame. I have problem calling this a documentary, because lot of testimonies, especially from the people involved in drug trafficking are pretty unreliable. But who cares? After it ends you wanna see more. You will understand what made Miami so special and you gonna see the bigger picture behind the city. 9/10

2013 Version: For start, this version is not just 30 minutes extended, it has about 5-10% original footage. It is not near as enjoyable or interesting as first version, because all aspects what made first version great are not there. Soundtrack is mediocre remake from the original, it doesn't have that movie atmosphere and it is too long. There are few interesting facts, for instance you gonna learn that John Roberts was deeper involved than you would have think from the first version. This version has more reliable testimonies and it is less "glorifying", but the charm is gone. 6/10

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