The Legend of Cocaine Island, a truly wild documentary that dropped on Netflix March 29, gives new meaning to the "Florida Man" meme. Because that's all Rodney Hyden was back before the disaster unfolded: A Florida man who believed he'd stumbled upon the ultimate shortcut to wealth.
When Hyden first heard about the buried treasure on the remote Puerto Rican island of Culebra worth an estimated $2 million, he was in a slump — personally and professionally. Business at Hyden's construction company had plummeted after the 2008 financial recession, and landed him $1 million in debt. In the aftermath, Hyden and his family moved from a lavish mansion to a farm in Archer, FL. That's where he met the barefooted hippie, Julian — and heard Julian's story.
Twenty years ago (or maybe 15, the documentary points to the many holes in this fable), Julian was living on the island of Culebra, off the coast of Puerto Rico. One day, a massive bag of containing 70 pounds of cocaine washed up on the shore. At a loss, Julian buried the cocaine near his trailer. He moved to Archer. He told the story again and again to friends and neighbors.
By the time Hyden entered Archer's social circle, Julian's story had been passed around so often that it became a tall tale, a tattered legend — not something a person actually takes seriously. Of everyone who heard the story, only Hyden took it as an opportunity for untold riches. After all, why send your character to work in The Sims when you could just enter the "motherlode" cheat? Why should Hyden grapple with a post-recession construction company when he could search for buried treasure?
If he was actually going to pursue this scheme, Hyden would need a partner-in-crime (literally). As Hyden's daughter, Samantha, explains in the documentary, Hyden had a habit of mentoring struggling young people. Andy, a scraggly man with great comedic timing and a history of drug addiction, was one of his lost puppies.
Hyden would also need a way of turning the "white gold" into actual cash. Which brings us to the obvious flaw in Hyden's pipe-dream: Even if he dug up the 70-pound bag, he'd have no idea what to do with it.
So, like the protagonist in a Coen Brothers movie made fearless through naivety, Hyden dove into Central Florida's crime underworld. Andy connected him with Dee, a shady drug dealer who did the documentary's interviews wearing a bandana over his face. Through Dee, Hyden met Carlos, a suavely dressed narcotics transporter.
A self-described optimist, Hyden chose to focus on the positive potential outcome (a ladder out of his dead-end situation) than the more obvious negatives (partnering with shady people to do illegal things). As you'll see in the documentary, Hyden's actions lead him to the bag of cocaine — and to many unexpected twists. When Hyden landed on front pages of Florida newspapers in August 2012, it wasn't because he was triumphant.
The Legend of Cocaine Island slots neatly into the zeitgeist. Lately, pop culture has been saturated with the stories of ambitious grifters. Anna Delvey convinced New York's art-buying elite that she was about to start a revolutionary gallery, but instead just took their money. Elizabeth Holmes built a billion-dollar medical technology company on a lie.
Amid this set, Hyden stands alone as the everyman grifter, whose desires to game the system come off as almost heroic — or at the very least, understandable. Like so many Americans, Hyden was a victim of the financial recession. But in Cocaine Island, he seizes his fate back. Watching the documentary, you'll want believe in a world in which buried treasure is within reach for people brave enough to look. You'll want him to get away with it.
Aside from the sheer risk-taking found in Hyden's story, the real gamble of The Legend of Cocaine Island is Theo Love's novel documentary style itself. To put it simply, Cocaine Island is blisteringly hilarious. Retracing his steps with fictional simulations, Hyden further plays into the role of a blundering but likable fool. Hyden's story, not Julian's, becomes the ultimate legend.