“Cocaine Cowboys” is a documentary that follows the story of Miami’s most famous drug traffickers. The film takes viewers through the rise and fall of the Medellin Cartel, which was led by Pablo Escobar, who became one of the wealthiest men in history.
Cocaine Cowboys: The Kings Of Miami is a documentary that tells the story of ruthless drug trafficking in Miami. It was directed by Tyler Perry and stars his wife, Oprah Winfrey.
Almost every week, Netflix publishes a fresh batch of true-crime documentaries to an eager audience. Following the success of early miniseries like Making a Murderer and The Keepers, Netflix rapidly expanded its offering of confessional films and news clip-heavy programs to meet growing demand. You can feel the supply chain shaking under the weight of pushing out so many products when you watch a drama like Night Stalker or Sons of Sam, two overdone shows that rehashed headline-generating instances from the past. The once-delectable recipe has become stale.
Cocaine Cowboys: The Kings of Miami, a new film by director Billy Corben on the Florida drug trade, seems to be another victim of Netflix’s proclivity for turning a fascinating, worthy subject into an overcrowded, boring multi-episode story. After all, Corben directed Cocaine Cowboys in 2007 and Cocaine Cowboys 2 in 2008, both of which are under two hours long. Is it essential to do a six-episode deep dive on a subject that has already been well explored?
Based on the first episode of the series, you’ll want to get in the speedboat, strap up, and see where the water takes you. Corben dissects the typical “rise-and-fall” criminal route with a dark sense of humour, moral integrity, and genuine sympathy that so many true crime films lack.
Willy Falcon and Sal Magluta, often known as “Los Muchachos,” were two Cuban drug lords. Only archive video footage and a few stray photos showing Falcon and Malguta living big in Miami—collecting awards, attending soirees, and ultimately leaving courthouses—are available. The conversations with their affiliates and the many attorneys engaged in their legal proceedings create a complicated, nuanced picture that lends itself to countless hours of introspection.
Between the 1980s and 1990s, Falcon and Magluta established a network that smuggled an estimated 75 tons of cocaine worth $2 billion. They utilized speed boats, planes, and any other fast vehicle available to escape the police and extend their rule. The series starts with an interviewer describing the two as “non-violent drug traffickers,” implying that they valued speed and efficiency above bloodshed and gunplay. As the series continues and the strain rises, maintaining that initial benign image becomes more difficult. Teethy smiles have been replaced with sweaty grimaces. The brilliant lights start to fade. The corpses begin to stack up.
The Falcon and Malguta saga was the first story he wanted to tell about the Miami drug trade, according to a recent interview with Corben in The Guardian, but “wounds were still fresh” and “the story hadn’t aged yet to the point where everybody had some hindsight and space and was ready to talk about it” in the early 2000s. He made the right choice by waiting. Many of the slicker, gruesome drug war films that pile up on streaming platforms and cable networks lack the sensitivity and depth of the interviews, particularly those with Magluta’s ex-girlfriend Marilyn Bonachea. Similarly, some of the attorneys, such as Albert Krieger, a combat ax defense lawyer, talk openly about their duties. Many of the interviews are also staged in front of suitably chintzy glass brick walls.
Corben allows everyone affected to tell their experiences. He obtains amazing testimonies from criminals, law enforcement agencies, and even a few jurors on both sides of this fascinating tale. The narrative spirals out of control with jury tales in ways I’ve never seen before, including a brawl in the jury chamber and numerous allegations of juror bribery. The show’s vitality comes from the interviews, which have a revealing playfulness to them. Several of these professional crooks seem to be almost too relaxed. You may question whether drug lords would pleasure you, but Corben and his crew expertly balance the line between raising the criminal scene and not boosting the criminal scene.
It’s not only criminals that are involved. By conversing with and spending almost as much time with people on the opposite side of the law, including the attorneys who tried to bring Maglut and Falcon down. Cocaine Cowboys: The Kings of Miami evolves into a much more complete production. The defensive team, which features Albert Krieger, gets some excellent sound bites as well, but Marilyn Bonachea steals the show. She’ll be the focus of everyone’s attention, a key person in the organization who saw it through until she felt betrayed by it.
The show moves, pulsing with the emotional intensity and seductive excess of the Miami Vice period. Even visual choices that may appear tired or cliché, like recycling material from classic crime films like The Untouchables, worked because they helped explain very specific narrative twists and turns. Simultaneously, the series shows a fascination with the finer points of criminal accounting and the intricacies of jury selection that you’d expect to see only in a high-end legal thriller or a thorough New Yorker article.
Corben is a master at achieving the perfect mix of gloss and roughness. Given six episodes to work with, he makes the most of the structure by digging into different aspects of the industry while staying focused on the larger narrative of greed, power, and ambition he’s telling. As the series reaches its conclusion, it avoids the temptation to make too many broad generalizations about the case’s social and political implications, leaving viewers to form their own conclusions about the court system, drug prohibitions, and America’s obsession with money. Corben’s restraint may be what distinguishes him from the monstrous figures he plays. It’s also one of the factors that contributes to the enjoyment and suspense of watching this Netflix special.
SCORE: 8 OUT OF 10
- ruthless tv show