Review: ‘Cocaine Cowboys’

Documaker Billy Corben's 2001 Sundance phenom "Raw Deal" unspooled raw tapes that tested the limits of consensual sex. In "Cocaine Cowboys," he revels in endless piles of dope, money and corpses to a "Miami Vice" beat while recounting the heyday of drug traffic in the Florida metropolis.

Documaker Billy Corben’s 2001 Sundance phenom “Raw Deal” unspooled raw tapes that tested the limits of consensual sex. In “Cocaine Cowboys,” he revels in endless piles of dope, money and corpses to a “Miami Vice” beat while recounting the heyday of drug traffic in the Florida metropolis. Corben’s films are meant to grab the most ADD-afflicted viewer. Jam-packed “Cowboys,” featuring colorful drug runners and assassins expansively waxing nostalgic about the glory days, opens today in select cities and should wow on cable.

Well-structured docu is divided into three distinct sections concerning: the nuts and bolts of the importation and distribution of cocaine; the societal impact of the huge amount of cash flowing through the city; and, the runaway violence of the drug wars.

A rogues gallery of flamboyant gangsters paint an anecdote-rich portrait of the drug trade, while a steady stream of cops, coroners and crime reporters furnish social commentary.

Big-time cocaine dealer Jon Roberts and major transporter Mickey Munday relate their improbable exploits, such as Munday’s story of returning from a run with a boatload of coke only to wind up towing a disabled Coast Guard vessel to shore. But their awed reminiscences of walls full of cocaine pale before the sheer volume of money that poured into this once sleepy town of retired geezers, transforming it into a flashy international mecca for fast-living Eurotrash.

Corben’s fondness for shots of sacks of cocaine is matched only by his love for shots of stacks of money, but the facts about the influx of cash speak even more loudly than the images: While banks nationwide sent approximately $12 million to the Federal Reserve, the banks in Miami turned over $600 million, the surplus of the Miami Fed greater than all the branches in the U.S. combined.

A new player is added in the last act in the person of Jorge “Rivi” Ayala, the main hit man in the employ of the biggest badass of them all — Columbian Godmother Griselda Blanco, aka “The Black Widow.” Interviewed from prison, where he is serving multiple concurrent life sentences, soft-spoken, rather charming “Rivi” adds a personal insider note to tales of indiscriminate, out-of-control slaughter.

To illustrate the docu, Corben draws from a huge bank of found footage, from 1950s Chamber of Commerce shorts to news clips and police archives, which he supplements with newly-shot reconstructions, both realistic and wildly impressionistic. Taken individually, the sound/image matchups are often ludicrously literal: Roberts mentions arriving in Florida with $650 in his pocket and we cut to a close-up of a hand pulling money from a pocket.

But everything is delivered in such a wash of rapid-fire montage, under a driving score by “Miami Vice” composer Jan Hammer, that the viewer scarcely has time to register the particulars.

Cocaine Cowboys


A magnolia Pictures release of a Rakontur production. Produced by Billy Corben, Alfred Spellman. Executive producers, Bruno del Granado, Daniela Manas. Co-producer, David Cypkin. Co-executive producers, Mara Beth Sommers, David Ross. Directed by Billy Corben.


Camera (color, DV), Armando Salas; editors, Corben, David Cypkin; music, Jan Hammer; sound, Juan Dieguez. Reviewed on DVD, New York, Oct. 17, 2006. Running time: 118 MIN.


Jon Roberts, Mickey Munday, Jorge "Rivi" Ayala, Dr. Joseph Davis, Sgt. Al Singleton.

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