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In the late 70s/early 80s, Miami was the nation’s cocaine capital. Shipments from Cuba hit Florida and dispersed throughout the country to support the growing market. This fascinating and violent era has been well documented in the film (Scarface) and on the tube (Miami Vice…and ironically Jan Hammer provided the soundtrack to today’s film)…but “Cocaine Cowboys” strips away all the entertainment facets of the drug trade and focuses more on historical fact, which is even more disturbing than fiction.
“Cowboys” lays out Miami’s history from the 30s to present day, and how the drug trade helped mold the city in the process. There’s no omnipotent narrator here, the story unfolds through a combination of news reports from the time as well as first party reflections from some people involved, including police, DEA agents, reporters, doctors, a dealer, a pilot and a hitman. This made the story even scarier, since we were seeing it directly through the participants’ eyes.
While watching the gunfights and chases from Hollywood’s Miami is fun, watching the transition from a sleepy Cuban drug trade to the violent Colombian/Cuban drug war was simply amazing. This is very recent history, but very much resembled the Wild West.
The documentary is stylized, but not too flashy. Images are digitally laid atop each other to visualize the voice overs, but it’s subtle enough not to come across as tacky. And even though this is historical non-fiction, it’s damned bloody too. There are a couple of scenes that may make the squeamish turn away.
“Cowboys” does not romanticize the drug trade, or even vilify it, it merely presents the facts in an easy to follow time-line. The closest to a political slant was a brief look at how Reagan began cleaning up the process with his proactive drug war…but even Super Ron was presented as a blip on the radar when encompassing the whole time-frame.
“Cocaine Cowboys” was riveting and fascinating as a movie, and not just as a documentary. Fans of mob movies are sure to enjoy the historic view of such a turbulent time, and History Channel buffs can appreciate the scope of such an endeavor.
I can heartily recommend “Cowboys”, and will readily watch it again. It’s an incredible view of a violent chapter in our history, and a solid 5 cans out of 5.
Added: Sunday, February 11, 2007
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