Netflix’s ‘Cocaine Cowboys’ Makes ‘Miami Vice’ Look Like Child’s Play

The adrenaline-packed tale of two Cuban drug kingpins (and speedboat racers) who flooded the U.S. with tons of blow, is an epic binge

If you snorted so much as a bump of coke during the 1980s in any major city in the U.S., chances are it came from Willy Falcon and Sal Magluta, two Cuban immigrants and Miami Senior High School dropouts who built a drug empire so lucrative it would bring in over $2 billion dollars and pump 75 tons of cocaine into the United States. Now, with the new Netflix series Cocaine Cowboys: The Kings of Miami, you can watch the unhinged tale of how they pulled it off.

“That’s 68 million grams,” says investigative reporter Jim DeFede (whose original reporting for Miami New Times on the outsize duo informs the show) in one episode of the blitzed-out, six-part docuseries. “Hundreds of millions of lines snorted by tens of millions of people in Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York—all over the country. That gives you an idea of the scope of the problem.”

But in the hands of director Billy Corben, who’s helmed three other Cocaine Cowboys docs on Miami’s drug history, that problem plays more like an epic tale of brazen extravagance lived at mind-boggling, powerboat speed. Seemingly allergic to the concept of laying low, Willy and Sal, affectionately called “the Boys” or “Los Muchachos,” publicly held court at pre-South Beach-era Miami hotspots and spent lavishly (at one trendy club, a Burger King crown placed on the VIP table signaled available supply for sale) while running a complex drug ring. They also raced pricey speedboats for Team Seahawk in their spare time, often chatting up ESPN on air and even snagging a few national championships.

But the heat is always on, and the six episodes are chock full of contemporary and archival material documenting the crazy chase, all spliced together in a wash of Miami-colored pop. The Pitbull theme song adds a tweaked-out pulse to a marvel of editing and astonishing story weaving from dozens of sources, including friends, associates, and prosecutors. Major highlight: the interviews with Magluto’s unusually sunny, cunning ex-girlfriend Marilyn Bonachea.

Cocaine Cowboys seduces with its sensational, comically bananas tale of flagrant drug running and the cat-and-mouse game with federal prosecutors. But its enlarged heart is the curiously deep loyalty and affection inspired by these Cuban immigrants made good, who maintained the kind of risky deep ties in their community most drug kingpins would happily waste bullets on. Unlike the vengeful Griselda Blanco-era Miami drug wars that featured sicarios, mall shootouts, and a very public, bloody body count, the Boys (mostly) took a gentler, far more generous approach to oversight. That may be why at one point in the series, a failed conviction results in throngs of cheering and weeping Cubans in the streets, ecstatic that Willy and Sal have evaded capture yet again.

For such a breathless, complex chronicle that could easily rest on its lurid laurels, Cocaine Cowboys is a thrill watch that nimbly humanizes its central figures while never minimizing their obvious culpability. In a sense, it’s Godfather, Goodfellas, and Scarface rolled into one—plus speedboats. Though, as DeFede notes at one point, did we really need such fictional flourish when we had Los Muchachos all along?

“We didn’t need to create Tony Montana,” he says. “We had them. They were Falcon and Magluta. Willy and Sal. The Boys.”

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