​'Cocaine Bear' Will Blow You Away

Directed by Elizabeth Banks

Starring Keri Russell, Margo Martindale, Ray Liotta, Alden Ehrenreich, O'Shea Jackson Jr., Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Kristofer Hivju, Kahyun Kim, Christian Convery, Brooklynn Prince, Scott Seiss

Photo courtesy of Universal Studios

BY Rachel HoPublished Feb 24, 2023

The story of Cocaine Bear (a.k.a. Pablo Eskobear) is the epitome of reality being stranger than fiction. In 1985, a drug smuggler from Kentucky was trafficking cocaine from Colombia to the US when he had to heave 40 containers of cocaine out of his plane over a forested area in Knoxville, TN. The smuggler died when his parachute didn't open, and a few months later, a black bear was found dead in the forest with 75 pounds of cocaine in its stomach. 

There aren't any actual accounts of what happened in those three months between the cocaine being tossed from a plane and the bear being found dead, but that hasn't stopped writer Jimmy Warden and director Elizabeth Banks from exploring the wildest of possibilities. 

Cocaine Bear tells the tale of the coked out bear through three separate storylines. Sari (Keri Russell) is a mom in the park searching for her daughter (Brooklynn Prince) and her friend (Christian Convery), who played hooky from school. Daveed (O'Shea Jackson Jr.) and Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich) are underlings for Syd (Ray Liotta) and tasked with retrieving the dropped cocaine. And Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) is a local detective also looking to retrieve the cocaine. To round things out, Liz (a hilarious Margo Martindale), the park's forest ranger, brings together the different plot lines.

Movies like Cocaine Bear are at their best when everyone involved is aware of the kind of film they're working on. A movie about a cracked out bear isn't "cinema," but it also doesn't have to be a B-level romp either. Undoubtedly thanks to Banks's leadership, her cast and crew all come to play and strike the balance beautifully. From Mark Mothersbaugh's score, which is equally camp and ornate, to the cinematography of John Guleserian, which shows off the lush landscape of the national park while being delightful grotesque in the kills, Cocaine Bear displays a fine-tuned understanding of what it is.

Just as committed to the cause are the actors. Jackson and Ehrenreich strike just the right tone as tough guys with hearts of gold — especially Ehrenreich, who spends the entirety of the film comically drowning in his heartbreak. The two highlights of the film, though, are Whitlock and Martindale. Their comedic timing is impeccable, and they play to their strengths with dead-panned humour and just the right amount of absurdity. 

Banks deserves all of the credit for everything that works well in Cocaine Bear. Her penchant for broad humour is befitting of the material (an unmentioned billboard pointing tourists in the direction of the "original glory hole" is a perfect example), and her dynamic swings with the camera and editing show a director in command. Her fingerprints are all over the film for the better, and it's an excellent vehicle for her skills.

Cocaine Bear is exactly the cinematic romp we all hoped it would be — ridiculous, gruesome and hilarious. In a word, Cocaine Bear is dope.

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