Documentary filmmaking is at its core a discussion or debate of an issue, a look past the blurb of an issue and getting to the core of it. Director Stanley Nelson’s Crack: Cocaine, Corruption & Conspiracy is a look behind the decades old stigmas associated with the advent of the crack cocaine boom in the early 80s. Despite its honest title, one that alludes to the three tranches of discussion here, and the seemingly complete history of how crack became so rife in America over an almost 20 year period this is barely the first layer of a story that deserves more detail than the often one sided and cliff notes version on offer here. Stylistically all over the place and never content to narrow its focus to tell a more detailed version of one of its three stories, instead Nelson’s film clumsily meshes its lingering strands into a rushed ending that paints a bleak picture of a country lacking in sympathy and emotion.
Essentially a verbal history of three different stories, the reason for crack’s meteoric rise to popularity, the politicians that allowed it to happen and the people profiting enough to turn a blind eye, while bringing it all back to how it affected African Americans and the impoverished Black communities let to suffer because of it. It paints a bleak picture but one that never feels like the full landscape of a country willing to sacrifice its poor for the sake of money, power and political influence, relying heavily on dry talking heads conveying just enough fact while never quite living up to the outrage and pain evident from the archive footage used to accompany these survivors and dealer’s stories. When Nelson’s story takes a detour to discuss the effects of communism and Reganomics on a booming drug trade, the whole film feels like an upside down rehashing of history, a history lesson told in part, missing the other few lessons. While trying to be sympathetic yet cold in its factual retelling, Crack is let down by spreading itself too thin, never doing justice to a story that needed much more time and attention. This Netflix film really needed to be a Netflix series and in the end all you really feel by the end is lost in a swamp of missing pieces.