There aren't a whole lot of people on the planet who don't know that Miami is
full of vice. A certain TV program recent movie has made sure of that. But what very few
people know are the inside details of its emergence as the drug capital of
the country--if not the world-- its beginning in the late 70s,
its almost law-proof operation for years, and the specific issues that
caused its downfall. This film exposes all that with candid revelations by
key players from law enforcement, the legal profession, journalists and a
surprising cast of inside participants whose connections erected a pathway to
a huge drug marketplace.
What gives director Billy Corben's expose' the impact and authority it has is
his access to the people who provided the underground operation its
structure and, after serving time and finally having the freedom to be open,
are so willing to talk. Not just talk, in fact, but recount every detail in
their memories. They pour it out from a perspective of the grand adventure
in their lives--the evolution of an illicit enterprise that made them very
rich while they ignored the murder and moral devastation their product
created. They tell their stories like interviewed rock stars, making the
most of their chance to glorify their roles as entrepreneurs in a $20 Billion
From slimily clever opportunist Jon Roberts we get the picture of a small
time cocaine trafficker of Miami hooking up with the Medellin cartel and
stepping into the role of wholesaler to the major channels of distribution on
the retail level. Virtually invisible except to his dealer clientele, he
alone eventually disperses over 2 billion dollars worth of the powder from a
safe, cat-bird seat of illicit trade.
From Mickey Munday we get another extremely articulate view of the setup.
This ace pilot finds his fortune in modes of transportation between the cartel
to the south and the market to the north, primarily in air cargo. Another
sweet arrangement carved out in the early days, involving less
risk than the ugly trafficking and dangers on the streets. According to
his own estimates, he smuggled over 10 tons during his career and now
commiserates over what might have been had it not ended.
And, then, there's Jorge "Rivi" Ayala, equally articulate and self-absorbed.
Rivi is the handsome, charismatic contract killer who, as chief enforcer for
one of the most deadly sociopaths to stain the concept of being human,
Griselda Blanco, enabled her to maintain advantage and fear among her
competition and light the fuse for the explosive Cocaine Wars. Through her
sheer taste for internecine homicide, her orders and Rivi's work product
brought on the attrition of the drug trade and an end to its high level of
success. Eventually, her grisly disregard for life was the best thing that
could have happened for law enforcement and legal prosecution.
As retired police detective Al Singleton tells it, when the ruthless Blanco,
an ex-prostitute from Colombia, also referred to as "the queen of cocaine"
and "the Black Widow," moved away from Miami (to Los Angeles in 1984), the
homicide rate in the "murder capital of the world" immediately plummetted,
demonstrating her contribution to the bloodshed. But that's just historical
confirmation of what Rivi, the triggerman, is coldly corroborating for our
understanding, taking extreme pleasure and pride in his accomplishments. Few
of his victims would argue about his claims were they around to do so.
All these people who speak so candidly on camera do so after serving prison
time. Their stories are studies in maximizing criminal connections that were
as symbiotic as they were sordid.
The extraordinary amount of footage Corben develops with his voluble
interview subjects and out of stock libraries provides only part of the
pounding impact of his film. He makes even more out of the unraveling with an
aggressive, balsy piece of editing (by him and David Cypkin), cross cutting
specific details or episodes from multiple tellers almost at the same time
for a "Rashomon" like corroboration of facts. Dynamic pacing, music by Jan
Hammer and the journalistic approach are harnessed and shaped into a piece of
informative documentary filmmaking that belongs as much on library shelves
and agency case files as in your local theatres. One of its effects will be
to set writers off in creating more new fictional characters based on these
Corben and his partner Alfred Spellman produced under their Miami-based
production company, rakontur which, derived from the word raconteur (they
tell us in their titles) means, "One who tells stories with skill and wit."
They live up to it with a model of documentary filmmaking that employs a full
arsenal of cinematic power.
~~ Jules Brenner