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Cocaine Cowboys

4.4 out of 5 stars 175 customer reviews

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(Jan 23, 2007)
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description



More of a real-life exploitation film than a bonafide documentary, Cocaine Cowboys is tailor-made for anyone who worships Brian De Palma's Scarface. It's no surprise that this slick, energetic film found a niche audience among crime-obsessed hip-hoppers; from a journalistic perspective it's an irresponsible mess, but director Billy Corben is obviously more interested in capturing the thrills and danger of the drug trade that transformed Miami, Florida during the Miami Vice era of the late 1970s and '80s. Corben has no particular interest in seriously examining the sociopolitical implications of Miami's drug-fueled rise and fall, so Cocaine Cowboys lives up to its title by focusing on some of the most colorful, daring, and outrageously successful survivors of that era, when tons of cocaine were distributed through Miami by the kingpins of Colombia's notorious Medellin cartel. Chief among the many interviewees are Jon Roberts and Mickey Munday (who personally transported over $2 billion worth of cocaine into Miami) and Jorge "Rivi" Ayala, a convicted drug-trade assassin now serving consecutive life terms in prison. They're lively storytellers who are egotistically eager to share their coke-tales, and Corben's only too happy to capture their exploits on film, up to and including the dubious use of violent reenactments that could easily serve as a recruitment film for Tony Montana wannabes.

It's simultaneously disgusting and compelling, especially since Corben has a knack for matching swift editing to the pulsing score by TV's original Miami Vice composer Jan Hammer. In the final analysis, it must be said that Cocaine Cowboys succeeds as a brash and breathtaking record of a bygone era, when murder rates were at an all-time high, coke was everywhere, and Miami was financially transformed into a nightlife mecca where criminals were kings. Or queens, as in the case of Griselda Blanco, the ruthless and self-appointed "Godmother" of the cocaine trade, who was responsible for countless murders and as of 2007 remained at large, her whereabouts unknown. All of this deadly life in the fast lane makes for a fascinating movie, but Corben and coproducer David Cypkin's breathless commentary makes it clear that they're young, immature thrill-seekers, and their film makes no apologies for glorifying the drug trade while exploring its bloody and frequently fatal consequences. Their commentary also accompanies an abundance of deleted scenes, and there's also a bonus featurette, "Hustlin' with the Godmother," in which Griselda Blanco's former lover and big-time coke dealer Charles Cosby tells his story, which clearly has all the makings of a Hollywood movie along the lines of Blow. You can bet that film will eventually be made, and don't be surprised if it's Corben who makes it. --Jeff Shannon

Special Features

  • Commentary by director Billy Corben and co-producer David Cypkin
  • Deleted scenes with commentary
  • "Hustlin' with the Godmother: The Charles Cosby Story"
  • Sneak Peak at Mr. Untouchable

Product Details

  • Actors: Jon Roberts, Al Sunshine, Sam Burstyn, Mickey Munday, Bob Palumbo
  • Directors: Billy Corben
  • Producers: Billy Corben, Alfred Spellman, Bruno del Granado, David Cypkin, Mara Beth Sommers
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0), English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Subtitles: Spanish
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
  • Studio: Magnolia
  • DVD Release Date: January 23, 2007
  • Run Time: 118 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (175 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #25,328 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Cocaine Cowboys" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jessica Lux on April 23, 2007
Format: DVD
Cocaine Cowboys is an aptly-titled 2-hour documentary about the cocaine economy which built modern day Miami. The documentary covers the flashiest crimes and personalities in the cocaine explosion of the 1980's. Director Billy Corben tells the story of the city built on cocaine via interviews with smugglers, hit men, and dealers. This isn't a socio-political look at the drug trade, rather, it is a down-and-dirty Wild West story, complete with a Godmother who could give Scarface a run for his money.

It does drag in parts, and could have been told in a more streamlined fashion. Even at 2-hours on length, the DVD has another two dozen deleted scenes, for anyone who wants more time with the men on the street. Anyone who enjoyed Scarface or Blow needs to pick this one up, as does any armchair economic historian.
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Recently I watched (and reviewed) How to Make Money Selling Drugs. In that case a deliberately provocative title was used merely as an attempt to attract a wider audience for what was in reality a polemical piece against the failed policy of prohibition.

By contrast, I strongly suspect this film would be far more useful to anyone genuinely seeking instruction in such matters. It documents what went on inside the Miami drug trade in exquisite and unflinching detail - at least during the "Miami Vice" era of the 1970's through to about the mid 80's. The fast pace of the film not only makes for great storytelling: it also means an incredible amount of information is packed into a relatively short time-frame. As a result, this is a work that easily withstands repeated viewing. Indeed, it virtually demands it.

Cocaine Cowboys has been criticized as being exploitative, and as lacking in real analysis of the wider social impacts. Surprisingly, such criticisms appear even in the product description here on Amazon. Personally, I don't think either criticism is fair. It is true that parents need to be aware that the R rating is there for a reason. Many extremely brutal still-shots in particular appear in this film. It does not skimp on the graphic reality of what happens when you shoot and kill people. But for the adult audience for which it is intended, the film is no more gruesome than it needs to be to honestly portray the events with which it is concerned. Nor more redolent with excess than to portray with equal honesty the milieu in which they occurred.

As for the lack of analysis, that's like criticizing a horse for not being a camel.
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I lived in Freeport, Bahamas from 1980-1983. All television and radio was out of Miami and West Palm Beach, and Miami was only 30 minutes away on a 747. I often attempt to describe what it was like there to friends: the Haitian boat people, the Liberty City riots, the Mariel boat lift and the Colombian drug trade. But my anecdotes fall short of the mark. Prior to seeing "Cocaine Cowboys", the best I could do was tell them "watch 'Scarface'...with the exception of the final scene over-the-top hokey shootout, it was dead on." "Cocaine Cowboys" captures the true picture of the era there.
Daily you would wake up, turn on the radio and get the body count: 3 men found in the trunk of a burning car; or a headless corpse found floating in a canal; or 4 men killed in a parking lot shootout, 2 civilians wounded in the crossfire. This was followed by an ad for Lanson's, a high end men's clothier, advertising a bullet proof men's dinner jacket, "What the best dressed Miamian is wearing." Driving down the Dixie Hwy. in Miami, you see a bus stop bench with an ad on the back: "Protectar usted y su familia" punctuated with images of an automatic pistol and a machine gun and an address on Flagler St. where you can pick yours up.
The movie speaks for itself just like "Scarface". I have no doubt the individual narratives are accurate and non-hyperbolic. The movie does credit the cocaine "business" with cash infusion into the area and the resulting uplift of the overall economy. However, it omits the psychological impact on ordinary citizens, who saw little of the cocaine bucks: fear of getting caught in a crossfire and the depression of living in a combat zone.
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Format: DVD
A Real Life Weeds - Season One,Weeds - Season Two,Weeds - Season Three

A documentary that details the inception of the cocaine drug trade in America from the early 1970's when Columbian dealers dropped a few "suprise" kilos in bags of marijuana which was easily smuggled in via boats to the Reagan Era which spent millions "controlling" the drug trade in South Florida. "Cocaine Cowboys" presents an interesting perspective on the economy of the 1970's and what kept Miami afloat. Director Billy Corben tells the story of a Miami skyline built not of bricks and steel, but bricks of cocaine via interviews with some interesting smugglers, assasins, dealers, Ford models, and newscasters.

According to the film, in the 1970's marijuana was easily smuggled into South Florida. People openly off-loaded bales of marijuana from sail boats on public docks without interference. According to dealers in the film, in the 1970's cocaine was only used by medical professionals who could afford the several hundred dollars a gram price tag. Eventually the Columbian cartels found smugglers willing to import the drug and used Cuban distributors which made the drug readily available for everyone. The drug was first used by low-lifes-Castro refugees set free after he opened his prisons-and worked it's way up the ladder to become a party drug for all echelons of society.
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