Matthew Heineman’s dangerous and provocative double Sundance winner is a brilliant and groundbreaking investigation into the illegal narcotic trafficking and the actions of vigilante groups on both sides of the border.
It is powerfully visceral and engaging: its setting evokes a classic western movie, frontier lands and charismatic cowboys, but here the characters are painfully real, as are their battles.
Intrepid filmmaker Matthew Heineman embedded himself with two vigilante groups on either side of the US-Mexico border.
In the Mexican state of Michoacán, Dr Jose Mireles, known as “El Doctor”, heads a citizen uprising against a local violent drug cartel. In Arizona’s Alter Valley, Tim “Nailer” Foley heads a small paramilitary group called Arizona Border Recon, aiming to halt Mexico’s drug wars from making it across the border.
Both have taken justice in their own hands, both have taken questionable measures to ensure victory.
At the heart of Cartel Land is a moral dilemma: when institutions have failed, and corruption and organised violence is rife, who steps into that vacuum? When your government cannot protect you against violent organised criminals, is it acceptable to take the law into your own hands to protect yourself, your family and your community?
Cartel Land plunges us into that reality, where ethical boundaries quickly blur and where the breakdown of order has given rise to jousting definitions of justice. It transcends any straightforward discussion of good and evil and in doing so gets us to think differently, and seriously, about confronting the border crisis.