If crime, high living and wild twists are your type of content then Cocaine Cowboys is the show for you. Telling the story of Miami kingpens, Augusto “Willy” Falcon and Salvador “Sal” Magluta, Cocaine Cowboys is a rollercoaster ride. Billy Corben, a South Florida native, is excellent at letting his subjects tell their own story. Interviews from drug dealers, smugglers and family blend together to create one of the best crime documentaries I’ve seen recently. Cocaine Cowboys takes a bit of time to introduce us to the major players before quickly jumping into the story.
Cocaine Cowboys began as a documentary film, released in 2006 by Billy Corben. It became a cult classic and even spawned sequels ((2008’s Cocaine Cowboys 2 and 2014’s Cocaine Cowboys: Reloaded). These films dug even deeper into the stories of the law enforcement agents, journalists, assasians and smugglers who were key players in the War on Drugs. What all of these films missed, and something Corben wanted to touch on was the story of two very influential figures in the Miami cocaine game.
Known as “Los Muchachos” to everyone, Salvador “Sal” Magluta and Augusto “Willy” Falcon were Cuban exiles and best friends. Neither man was an excellent student and they didn’t want to live the way they’re parents had. When drug dealing presented itself as an option to make more than three hundred dollars a week, their lives changed. After a rather fortunate series of events, Sal and Willy find themselves in control of a small drug empire. That one moment of luck, takes Miami from a ho-hum city to the bustling party hub it’s known as today.
If cocaine built Miami, Falcon and Magluta provided the structure and support needed to maintain the foundation. The cocaine cowboys imported and distributed over 75 tons of cocaine into the United States over the span of 20 years. This amounted to an estimated $2 billion dollars in profit. “The Boys” lived in high style, while contributing to their community. They financed college educations and supported local businesses. One of my favorite quotes in the documentary is. “there may be six degrees of Kevin Bacon but in Miami, there were only one or two degrees from Willy and Sal.” As the series unfolds you understand just how true that is.
Cocaine Cowboys sparks interest outside of just it’s subjects. Unlike traditional crime documentaries, Cocaine Cowboys begins at the end. With the prosecution efforts against Falcon and Magluta the focus of the story. We watch as Los Muchachos avoid prosecution. In large part this works because of their massive payroll. Lawyers, wardens, witnesses and jurors are all a part of the corrupted web. Ironically, even as they corrupted the system, the massive amount of money the cocaine cowboys poured into their defense, kept the system in the black for decades.
Starting at the end allows for an almost playful energy in the project. Letting the people involved tell their own stories, including jurors and law enforcement almost creates a playfulness in the story. You might even find yourself questioning why you find these criminals likeable. Corben and his team masterfully walk the line between elevating criminality and showing you who these people truly are.
This format allows unlikely stars to shine. Including defense attorney great Albert Krieger but it’s Marilyn Bonachea who is the real breakout. I strongly suspect that more viewers will be talking about her actions than those of “The Boys”. Without her assistance the entire operation would have folded long before it did. Her betrayal serves as a catalyst for the downfall of one of South Florida’s largest kingpins.
Perhaps one of the only things I don’t enjoy about the series is the conclusion. After their arrest in 1991, Falcon and Magluta continously avoided conviction for at least a decade. There is an ending to this story but the docuseries leaves that in the air as if there’s still hope for The Boys. Falcon and Maglutta were sentenced at the time of filming. One of them had even completed serving their time. Falcon served 14 years and was released from federal custody in 2017 and deported to the Dominican Republic in 2018. Magluta is currently incarcerated in a supermax prison after being sentented to 205 years, cut down to 195.
Ultimately, Corben tells a compelling story, with cuts, music and editing choices that seem to mimic the lifestyle choices of the subjects. Its easy to see how Los Muchachos became folk heroes in their community. Overall, anyone who is a true crime afficianado will easily enjoy this rags to riches to prison story.
Netflix’s Cocaine Cowboys: Kings of Miami is available for streaming now.