Whilst Leicester Square played host to the star studded premiere of Men In Black 3 across the square, the Prince Charles Cinema had rolled out the white carpet for the debut screening of a documentary about what many of the stars of the rival event would be partaking in at the inevitable after show party: Cocaine. Cocaine Unwrapped purports to tell the untold story of the war on drugs, the human suffering and the cost caused by the cocaine trade, but just like Sony’s upcoming The Amazing Spider-Man which also claims to be telling an untold story, you’ve actually heard this all before.
Award winning documentarian Rachel Seifert who on the back of her much lauded previous effort The Found Children of Argentina was given unprecedented access to Latin American political leaders, drug mules in Ecuadorian prisons and cocaine factories in the Columbian jungle. If the documentary was about just that it would have been very eye-opening and informative because the source of the drug trade rarely gets any air play but its when Seifert tries to extend the films scope to the dealers of Mexico and Baltimore (why Baltimore? Maybe because that was where The Wire was set, perhaps?) and to consumers from the clubs and dinner tables of the West that the film fell on its face.
Executive Producer of the film, Christopher Hird said “We tried to make a documentary that raises the public awareness and hopefully changes consumer behavior, which will force Western politicians to act“. That’s the major problem of the film – Seifert sees The Drug Problem as tantamount to Conflict Diamonds or Fair Trade where producers in distant lands were being exploited and killed to produce a product that westerners enjoy obvious to the trail of human misery that our innocent habit has caused in its wake. Nowhere in this film does it explore the drug trade as a institution, the role it plays as an employer to the underclass of a society. I was baffled why Baltimore was chosen and not the UK to see how drugs is proliferated on the streets. Surely a look into drug dealing in the UK would have hit home to UK Audiences instead of playing up to the Americanized hip-hop cliche about drugs. Seifert never even gives us a look into the socio-political reasons why these kids become involved in drugs. We just ride shotgun with a world weary ex-cop driving through the streets of Baltimore as he waxes lyrical on a city torn apart by drugs.
The film also swerves the issue of the health implications of cocaine use. As consumers we don’t really worry when we buy a box of coffee, a diamond ring or even a schlocky pirate DVD if the product we’ve just brought is doing us any harm because it won’t but drugs most certainly will. Production-wise Cocaine Unwrapped is a very well produced documentary with an entertaining globe trotting feel that would make a Bond film blush but it’s problem is a thematic one. This documentary wrongfully sees the destruction that drugs wreaks as purely a the world problem that us unwitting western consumers exasperate which is completely misinforming. If you want to watch something informing about the war on drugs please track down Channel 4’s classic TV series Traffik that was adapted by Steven Soderbergh into a Oscar Winning, but less powerful , feature film – or tuck into The Wire box set or – Shock! Horror! – read a book! But do yourself a favor and avoid this film.