Most helpful positive review
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Don't expect the excitement factor of "Cocaine Cowboys", but this is a fine documentary from Billy Corben. 4.5 stars.
on April 29, 2011
I've been waiting to see "Square Grouper" since I first heard that Billy Corben (Cocaine Cowboys 1 & 2, Raw Deal) was directing the documentary. I became a Corben fan with "Cocaine Cowboys" and I've enjoyed all of his documentaries so far. What Corben does so well in his documentaries is that he infuses current footage and interviews from the actual people involved in the "crimes" with older archived footage and news broadcasts. These factors give his films such a realistic and edgy feel, not to mention authenticity provided by the first-hand sources including the "criminals", police, lawyers and FBI.
Knowing Corben's style, I went in to this film expecting "Cocaine Cowboys" with marijuana. This film is different though. It presents three separate stories, all set in the state of Florida (naturally, being a Corben film). The main difference in "Square Grouper" is that the pace isn't as fast as "Cocaine Cowboys". Much more mellow, yet still informative and imaginative. I find this fact very befitting the subject matter (or should I say, substance matter?).
The first story is about The Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church, who believe that marijuana is a sacrament, and the ensuing smuggling charges dropped on them. This part of the film examines the government's stand against a church centered around ganja. The media labeled them as a cult, they saw themselves as nothing but a church. Inevitably, the police become involved. The film begins with a verse from the Bible: "Behold I have given you every green herb bearing seed..." (Genesis 1:29) and I think this is a very important thing to consider for people who are against legalization (if you are a religious person).
The second story is about The Black Tuna Gang, who smuggled marijuana in massive amounts into Florida, or so the courts and FBI want you to believe. The film features the principle smugglers and FBI agents giving conflicting stories about alleged jury tampering, the Black Tuna gang's plans to flee, and even a phony plot to assassinate the judge in the trial. The Black Tuna Gang were dealt extremely harsh prison sentences, and this portion of the film tells the story from all viewpoints.
The third story is about the small town of Everglade City and the process of the citizens being practically forced to get into the marijuana business for much needed money. The tales tell of how easy it was to smuggle and hide drugs into the town, due to being able to evade the small police force in the swamps of the Everglades. To me, this is the most interesting part of the movie.
The film is accompanied by Country-type music, which I found to be a little off-putting, but otherwise, this is a fine documentary if you are interested in the topic, and I know that lots of people are. Billy Corben said himself that "hip-hop fans MADE 'Cocaine Cowboys'." I feel it should be noted that the music in the film will not grab the "hip-hop crowd" like "Cocaine Cowboys 2". Myself, I like all kinds of music, with the exception of popular country, and the country type music in this film didn't ruin the film for me, so don't let the music become the focal point of your viewing of this film. I'm not saying hip-hop music would be appropriate for this documentary, I'm just saying that the music won't appeal to hip-hop heads, many of whom are big fans of "Cocaine Cowboys 1 & 2". But like I said, I didn't find that it detracted from the film. It was just... off-putting.
The special features on the DVD include a short "Touring Ten Thousand Islands" featurette, deleted scenes, songs and scoring of Square Grouper (and music videos), along with feature-length commentary from Billy Corben and a trailer for the film.
So, while it may not be as exciting and fast paced as "Cocaine Cowboys", Billy Corben continues his successful streak of gripping and interesting documentaries. Highly recommended for heads, and I would also recommend this film to folks who are adamantly against legalization. It may open your eyes, or you could just be entertained by people getting busted if you're that kind of person. Either way, I think you can't go wrong with "Square Grouper". An important documentary. 4.5 stars.