• Cocaine Cowboys Reloaded

    Released by: Magnet Releasing
    Released on: April 8, 2014
    Director: Billy Corben
    Cast: Jon Roberts, Mickey Munday, Jorge 'Rivi' Ayala
    Year: 2006
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    The Movie

    Cocaine Cowboys Reloaded is an extended re-release edition of the 2006 documentary Cocaine Cowboys from director Billy Corben (Cocaine Cowboys 2, Square Grouper). The film documents the rise and fall of the Miami cocaine trade during the 1980s, starring the men and women who smuggled, sold, and killed for the Colombian cartels. It also features interviews with the reporters who were on the Miami crime reporting beat, and the police tasked with ridding the city of the drug cartels. Reloaded includes over 60 minutes of new footage and extended interviews with the cast, and while I haven't seen the original film to compare to this edition, I can say that at 152 minutes, Cocaine Cowboys Reloaded is exhaustive in its documentation of Miami and its vices.

    The movie begins in the 1970s and introduces two key players who brought the white lightning to Miami: Vietnam vet turned cocaine trafficker, Jon Roberts, and the Han Solo-esque smuggler, Mickey Munday. Roberts and Munday provide the setup for the film, and each of these characters has a wealth of stories to tell. So many stories in fact, that Roberts and Munday have both written books about their involvement with the cocaine trade. Cocaine Cowboys just gives you a taste of what they have to say. Roberts and Munday begin by describing what it was like to be the first people to smuggle and traffic cocaine in the late 70s, when marijuana was the major illegal import of choice in Miami. They lay out the conditions that led to cocaine exceeding marijuana as the major import, and then continue into the 80s as the cocaine trade begins to boom. The opening segment is fun and breezy. Both Roberts and Munday are charismatic individuals, and it's not difficult to imagine them living the high life when they were both smuggling and trafficking white gold.

    Within the first half-hour of the film, Miami Herald Crime Reporter, Edna Buchanan; NBC News Crime Reporter, Mark Potter; and the filmmakers, provide the socio-historical context for why the drug trade was able to boom as it did in Miami, via archival footage sourced from TV and video. In doing so, the film provides contrast to Roberts and Munday's colorful (and potentially unreliable) anecdotes of smuggling cocaine into Miami. Munday and Roberts describe at length what they went through to get drugs into the U.S., and this section of the film is riveting. It's easy to see why their life stories have become the inspiration for so many true crime books, TV shows, news reports, and feature films.

    From Munday and Roberts reminiscing over their smuggling days, the film goes on to show how cocaine transformed Miami from a quiet beach community into the hottest city in America. Nightclubs, banks, Rolex and Ferrari dealers all seemed to open overnight. Money flowed into legitimate businesses through the drug trade, everyone paid cash, and capitalism was king. However, with the money and cocaine came a wave of violence that the city had never experienced before. Politicians, judges, and lawyers were on the take, banks openly laundered drug money, and police officers were either using cocaine themselves or turning a blind eye to the massive shipments of coke coming in. Almost everyone in Miami was involved in supporting the cocaine trade, one way or another.

    The high the city was riding on then dovetailed into the vicious crime wave that took hold of the city, as the arrest of corrupt “Cocaine Cops” led to the first shots fired by the Meddelín cartel, in what became known as the “Cocaine Wars.” At this point in the film we're introduced to the SHIT Squad, or, Specialized Homicide Investigative Team, a group of Miami-Dade County homicide detectives lead by Sergeant Al Singleton. The SHIT Squad eventually became Centac (Central Tactical Unit), which pooled the resources of the FBI, CIA and DEA, and brought Miami law enforcement to the level of The Untouchables. The actions of the SHIT Squad and Centac would later provide the inspiration for TV shows like Miami Vice and CSI: Miami.

    There is so much information stuffed into Cocaine Cowboys Reloaded that it's easy to get lost in the details in the attempt to review it. I haven't even covered the notorious Griselda Blanco, aka The Godmother, and her ruthless enforcer, Jorge 'Rivi' Ayala. Griselda had her own Rogues Gallery of enforcers and hitmen; the most chilling parts of the film involve stories about the Godmother's brutal assassinations as they were carried out by killers like 'Rivi,' who is interviewed in the film and has a “business is business” approach to mass murder. Many of these stories sound like something out of Scarface, but the reality of these crimes is much more gruesome than the censors would have allowed DePalma to depict in 1983. Several crime scene photos are shown during this part of the film; consequently, Cocaine Cowboys can be as disturbing as it is entertaining and informative.

    Cocaine Cowboys is ultimately a pop documentary that revels in the escapades of smugglers like Roberts and Munday as much as it is a true crime doc that tries to uncover the human cost of the Cocaine Wars (including the death of a 3 year old killed by machine gun fire). The film has a complicated relationship to the cocaine trade. It recognizes the allure of cocaine and Miami in the 80s, but also goes to great lengths to acknowledge that Miami had the highest murder rate in America during the 80s because of the drug trade. It's to the film's credit that the movie remains fairly objective in its presentation. It seems to admire Al Singleton for bringing law and order to Miami, as much as it loves Jon Roberts and Mickey Munday for being the charismatic con men that they are. The film doesn't decry cocaine use as immoral; it's not an anti-drug movie. The purpose of this film is to let both sides of the Drug War, the police and the drug traffickers, tell the story of the cocaine trade in Miami and at that, it passes with flying neon colors.


    Cocaine Cowboys Reloaded rips on DVD in widescreen 1.78:1 with an MPEG-2 encode. Though the film is presented mostly through archival footage sourced from TV and VHS, interviews with the cast are shot on digital and look quite good for the most part. The level of detail in these interview segments varies depends mostly on the location of the subject, but typically they feature a nice level of detail. Because it's mostly composed of old TV and VHS footage, this isn't a movie that is going to look amazing on Blu-ray, and the DVD supports a nice overall image transfer.

    The English 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track adds a nice dynamic sound presentation to the film. Miami Vice composer Jan Hammer provides the score for the film, and it's a shredding guitar-driven theme full of booming drums and hot licks. The rest of the film has a synthesized score that really underpins some of the horror in the latter half of the film. This is the rare film that actually sounds better than it looks. Even though a lot of the audio sources from the archival footage was probably recorded in mono, the film utilizes the full range of a 5.1 audio arrangement nicely.

    The DVD features 8 minutes of deleted scenes, including additional interview footage with various cast members from the film. The best clips are at the beginning of the deleted scenes reel, as Jon Roberts and Mickey Munday talk their experiences in Panama and Colombia. There aren't any themes to the new footage. Each new clip just plays after the other. Besides the interviews with Roberts and Munday, the stand-outs from the Deleted Scenes include more information on the police involvement in the murder of Arthur McDuffie that led to the Miami riots in 1980, and another scene with Jorge “Rivi” Ayala, who claims that Jorge Ayala is not his real name. Just like the film, Rivi's interview ends the series of deleted scenes on a disturbing note.

    Also included on this disc are trailers for other films distributed by Magnolia Home Entertainment, including: Beyond Outrage, Big Bad Wolves, The Last Days on Mars, Journey to the West: Destroying the Demons, and a commercial for AXS TV.

    The Final Word

    Cocaine Cowboys Reloaded is the ultimate pop documentary on the subject of cocaine in the 1980s. This is a story that is so 80s, it even involves the creator of the DeLorean from Back to the Future, who was arrested for trafficking cocaine. This is an entertaining, informative, and sometimes chilling look at the cocaine boom that shows not only how cocaine became the drug that defined a decade, but how trafficking it into America led to the Drug War that the U.S. is still fighting to this day. Cocaine Cowboys Reloaded is highly recommended and, since director Billy Corben has two other drug-related documentaries, possibly habit forming.