Film Review: Cocaine Bear is wild, high, very bloody, darkly funny, and doesn’t play well with others

  • Peter Gray
  • February 23, 2023
  • Comments Off on Film Review: Cocaine Bear is wild, high, very bloody, darkly funny, and doesn’t play well with others

They often say that truth can be stranger than fiction, and in the case of Cocaine Bear, the truth is wild, high, very bloody, darkly funny, and doesn’t play well with others.  Of course, this is only an “inspired by” truth, the type of truth that gets gloriously twisted for the sake of bombastic entertainment.  And, honestly, we wouldn’t want it any other way.

On the morning of September 11th, 1985, Andrew Thornton, an Army paratrooper-turned-racehorse trainer-turned-narcotics cop-turned-DEA agent-turned-lawyer-turned-cocaine smuggler, was flying high – both literally and figuratively – over the lush greens of the Chattahoochee National Forest of Northern Georgia.  Losing his footing as he threw bricks of cocaine out the side of his plane, Thornton’s body was ultimately found on the driveway of a residential neighbourhood in Tennessee.

Thornton himself is enough of a character to earn a film about his life, but director Elizabeth Banks and screenwriter Jimmy Warden have other plans.  230kgs of other plans, to be exact, as the almost-unbelievable off-shoot to Thornton’s demise is that a large black bear actually ingested in upwards of 35 pounds of the discarded cocaine and, tragically, died from such an intake.  That story isn’t nearly as much fun though, and leaning into the mentality that nothing good comes from drugs and the typical “creature feature” usually results in whichever animal being slayed in the climax at the hands of our supposedly heroic human, Cocaine Bear acts as a revenge narrative of sorts for the Hollywood-ised iteration of the bear, here, hyped up on countless bags of cocaine with no patience for intruders, both local and visiting.

Whilst Warden’s script perhaps has a few too many characters to juggle across its tight 95 minute running time, it ultimately means we are bestowed even more bloody carnage as the titular bear rips through the ensemble with a ferocity that speaks to the film’s classification (gotta love “Blood and Gore”, “Animal Attacks” and “Violence” all being reasons for its rating); although, as demonstrated in, arguably, the film’s best set-piece of an ambulance speeding away from the chasing bear, a lot of the bodily damage that these characters experience is almost self-inflicted.

Whether it’s protective mama bear Sari (Keri Russell) hoping to find her precocious, skipped-school daughter, Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince), and her lovelorn bestie, Henry (Christian Converey) – watch for their spooning cocaine like candy sequence – out in the woods; drug kingpin Syd (Ray Liotta, reminding us, again, why he’ll be greatly missed), his sorrowful son, Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich), and trusted fixer, Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), scoping the grounds for the missing coke in the hopes of saving their own necks off Thornton’s mistake; or the hooligan collective “The Duchamps” – Kid (Aaron Holiday), Vest (J.B. Moore), and Ponytail (Leo Hanna) – a trio of local miscreants who get more than they bargained for when their attempt at robbing both Daveed and the local ranger (a scene-stealing Margo Martindale) result in more brutal a consequence than anticipated, Cocaine Bear flexes an inclusive temperament.  Everyone is equally tasty prey in the eyes of a very drugged-up omnivore.

But, for a movie called Cocaine Bear, and one that is clearly aware that its premise is what will bring curious, surrendering audiences in, it doesn’t quite balance the tone of giving us time to rest from the bear attacks.  It’s necessary that we have time to catch our breath, and the dynamic between both Russell & Converey and Ehrenreich & Jackson Jr. speaks to Warden’s witty script, but there’s perhaps a few too many emotionally-inclined beats that the film doesn’t need.  There’s enough going on and a strong enough commentary on parents, specifically mothers, protecting their young, that the eventual climax feels a little too on the nose and tonally out of place.

That being said, its attempt at emotionality is minor.  Banks connects more than she misses with the big swing mindset that is this film, and everyone is having far too good a time for any of its missteps to truly weigh it down.  Banks is a confident director in blending the comedic and horror spaces – some manners in which she builds tension throughout give me hope she’ll helm a straightforward horror film at some point though – and that pocket of playing to the ridiculousness and the more terrifying aspects of this story proves a comfortable space.


Cocaine Bear is screening in Australian theatres now.

Peter Gray

Film critic with a penchant for Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, Michelle Pfeiffer and horror movies, harbouring the desire to be a face of entertainment news.