Series Review: 'Cocaine Cowboys: The Kings of Miami'
Documentarian Billy Corben turns his eye back to the Cocaine wars of the 70s and 80s with Netflix in Cocaine Cowboys: The Kings of Miami'
Billy Corben has demonstrated the remarkable ability as a documentary filmmaker to find these brilliantly absurd stories amid larger, darker, overarching narratives. In his Cocaine Cowboys it was the way the smugglers and the members of law enforcement each seemed to marvel at their own audacity in how they conducted their adversarial business. For his newest foray into the Cocaine soaked world of the 1970’s and 1980’s, Corben is once again demonstrating this remarkable talent.
Cocaine Cowboys: The Kings of Miami is a new Netflix documentary series that gives Corben expansive space to seek and present these absurd and fascinating tales of drug sellers and the men trying to stop them. The story of the largest drug trafficking trial in American history, Cocaine Cowboys: The Kings of Miami has an engrossing overall narrative that is perfectly dotted with the kind of brilliantly absurd true stories that Corben is so great at finding.
Cocaine Cowboys: The Kings of Miami starts on a rather absurd note. We begin episode one with footage of boat racing. Two of the biggest drug smugglers in the world, both of whom are being sought by law enforcement and have been using aliases to hide in plain sight, are using their real names as they participate in an absurdly expensive type of boat racing. The two, along with many of their criminal associates, are seen happily celebrating their boat racing achievements, unafraid of being found by the people pursuing them.
Smugglers Sal Magluta and Willy Falcon are downright cuddly in this early part of Cocaine Cowboys: The Kings of Miami. One of Magluta’s former girlfriends even tells a very charming story about how they met when she was working at Magluta’s family bakery. It could almost be described as wholesome if we weren’t talking about a man who is likely to spend the rest of his life behind bars for trafficking more cocaine than anyone in American history, outside of the CIA, allegedly.
Falcon is described in darker and more volatile terms but this is superseded by stories about his prodigious partying and he and Magluta’s remarkable generosity. The two were hiding millions of dollars in Magluta’s mother’s closet, in Magluta’s childhood bedroom, boxes stuffed with cash. They couldn’t exactly put this kind of money in the bank without drawing unwanted attention and thus, when Magluta’s mom goes looking for something, a box of cash comes tumbling out and Sal has a little explaining to do.
It’s downright sitcomic and yet Corben never tips it into a comic perspective, it’s entirely up to you if you find these stories to be funny. Corben merely gives these stories space to exist and provide perspective for the overall story about massive amounts of drugs and money and the very foundation of one of the most storied tourist traps in North America, the clubs of Florida’s famed South Beach. Few, if any, of the tourist spots of South Beach can claim to not have been built on mountains of cocaine.
Cocaine Cowboys: The Kings of Miami in just one episode lays the groundwork for how these two massive personalities managed to get bigger than any drug smuggling operation in American history while sowing the seeds for how it all came crashing down, at least for Sal and Falcon, who were seemingly captured by their own egos. So insulated from reality were Magluta and Falcon that they felt no need to hide anymore. At a certain point, they had so much money that they weren’t entirely wrong in thinking they couldn’t buy their way out of any situation.
Episode 1 even ends on telling a story where Sal did buy his way out of an arrest and a trip to jail and it is a story you must hear for yourself from the apoplectic mouth of the Federal Agent who arrested Sal and assumed he was about to put him away. It’s one of many darkly comic stories amid an overall story that has weight and gravity to it. Cocaine Cowboys: The Kings of Miami is brilliantly absurd while also being a thorough and serious documentary about a dark and unfortunate part of American history.
Cocaine Cowboys: The Kings of Miami debuts on Netflix on August 4th, 2021.