Cocaine Bear: Review

A Different Kind of “Family Film”


Matthew Pasko, Editor-in-Chief

Bears: They are widely regarded to be one of the most powerful mammals on the planet. Although they do not often attack humans, black bears are especially dangerous. They weigh upwards of 600 pounds, can climb trees, and can run at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour.   Humans cannot.

Cocaine: It is widely regarded to be one of the most powerful and dangerous drugs on the planet. People who use cocaine find themselves able to perform extraordinary physical feats: usually violent and aggressive ones.

You may be wondering, What do bears and cocaine have to do with each other? Well in 1985, the world found out. And in 2023, director Elizabeth Banks bravely told this story in the recently released film, Cocaine Bear. This true story depicts the events that took place in the Chattahoochee–Oconee National Forest in 1985 after a cocaine smuggler dropped numerous bags of cocaine into the wilderness. As can be surmised by the film’s title, an American black bear consumes the cocaine and proceeds to go on a rampage.

Going into this film, I expected a goofy take on this historical event that didn’t take itself too seriously. However, I was met with a film that made me think: about bears, humans, and life itself. The film introduces a number of human characters in addition to the titular bear. Some of them are involved in the drug operation and spend the movie trying to retrieve the cocaine. Another is a police officer trying to track down these criminals. Additional characters include a middle-aged park ranger, a mother looking for her child in the woods, and a group of hoodlums. These characters offer a hodgepodge of stories and lives that would otherwise never have been brought together. But in Cocaine Bear, their stories become intertwined as they are all attacked by the rampaging bear. 

Some of these characters, naturally, are more likable than others. Some die soon after being introduced, leaving the audience with little time to form an opinion. Others, like Sari (Keri Russel), the mother searching for her daughter in the woods, and Bob (Isaih Witlock Jr.), (the detective pursuing the smugglers, are much more likable. The only true villain of the movie is Ray Liotta’s Sid: the drug kingpin searching for his lost cocaine. He is brutal and evil in all ways throughout the film, and the movie’s climax involves his battle with the bear.

The bear itself was truly the most intriguing part of the film. First, the bear is a female; I watched the movie during Women’s History Month which made her story that much more touching. The bear is obviously an antagonist (she maims and kills 8 people in the film), but unlike the human characters in the movie, she does what she does out of love; the love for cocaine, and love for her children. As it turns out, the cocaine bear is a mother. Her two cubs, who are also now addicted to cocaine, are threatened near the end of the film and she must put her own life at risk to save them. This display of courage reminded me of the courage that all mothers have when raising their children. (# MammaBear)

The cinematography of Cocaine Bear is stunning as well. The Tennassee wilderness serves as a beautiful backdrop to the carnage caused by the bear. Although she is CGI, the scenes involving the bear felt incredibly real. The movie doesn’t hold back on gore, and definitely earns its R-rating. 

Despite the adult nature of the movie, I felt it had the ability to touch a wide range of audiences. Everyone can see a version of themself in the cocaine bear, and I for one feel like I know myself better having seen the film.