A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Legend of Cocaine Island is a 2018 documentary about a Florida man with no prior criminal history who went on a treasure hunt for a bag of cocaine worth millions. Unsurprisingly, there's a lot of talk about cocaine and drug dealing. One of the subjects of the documentary is shown in reenactments going through withdrawal symptoms such as vomiting in a hotel toilet. In a reenactment, a man is shown getting searched by police, who find a bag filled with OxyContin pills. Beer, wine, and alcohol consumption throughout. Marijuana smoking. Cigar smoking. Use of chewing tobacco. Frequent profanity, including "f--k" and "motherf---er." The movie uses the story to explore themes like the meaning and reality of the American Dream after the 2008 financial collapse and whether or not law enforcement at the federal and local level acted appropriately in this situation.
What's the story?
THE LEGEND OF COCAINE ISLAND is a documentary about the unbelievable story of Rodney Hyden. In the 1990s and into the 2000s, Hyden is a successful business owner living with his wife and daughter in a small town outside of Gainesville, Florida. But his fortunes took a nosedive after the 2008 financial collapse, and he was forced to leave his dream home and live in a double-wide trailer. As he gets to know his new neighbors over bonfires and beer, Hyden learns of a story told by a local hippie in the area about a bag of cocaine buried on an island near Puerto Rico. Intrigued and desperate to regain the wealthier lifestyle he had lost, Hyden begins to devise a scheme to find the cocaine, bring it back to Florida, and sell it for millions. To help him carry out this scheme, Hyden recruits a drug addict and a drug dealer, as well as a mysterious Tony Montana-esque smuggler. Surprising absolutely no one except Hyden, the plan fails spectacularly, and Hyden is arrested by various branches of federal and local law enforcement. Hyden is charged with intent to distribute cocaine as the trial tries to make sense of Hyden's actions and whether or not his arrest constituted entrapment.
Is it any good?
This peculiar documentary will amuse some and annoy others. Near the end of The Legend of Cocaine Island, the judge who presides over the case of Rodney Hyden describes Hyden's actions as "Walter Mitty meets Breaking Bad." As one of the only people in the documentary who comes off as levelheaded and sane, this judge accurately sums up this strange story. The action takes place in Florida, and Hyden -- as a businessman down on his luck after the 2008 recession -- is representative of the men who so often appear in the tragicomic news stories that originate from The Sunshine State.
The problem with the documentary is that this offbeat tale doesn't really have enough to sustain it into a feature-length film. And one gets the sense that even the filmmaker, deep down, knows this to be true -- hence all of the reenactments and excessive interview footage. There's also something suspect about using Hyden himself in these reenactments. Furthermore, while the documentary explores deeper themes, such as entrapment and the American Dream after the 2008 financial crash, the glaring omission here is the foregone conclusion that if Hyden had not been white, this documentary would have been a lot less of an amusing tale. Nonetheless, at its best, The Legend of Cocaine Island is up there with Errol Morris' Vernon, Florida in terms of accurately revealing the eccentrics and dreamers who help give Florida that extra dash of peculiarity lacking in the rest of America.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about "true crime" documentaries. How does The Legend of Cocaine Island compare to other documentaries centered on a bizarre tale in which people run afoul of the law?
Did the reenactments enhance the story, or did they seem to artificially pad the documentary?
How did the movie explore some of its deeper themes?
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