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CARTEL LAND (director/writer: Matthew Heineman; cinematographers: Matthew Heineman/Matt Porwoll; editors: Matthew Hamachek/Matthew Heineman/Bradley J. Ross/Pax Wassermann; music: H. Scott Salinas/Jackson Greenberg; Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Tom Yellin/Matthew Heineman; The Orchard; 2015)
“One of the most astonishing films on the ruthless drug cartels.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Documentarian Matthew Heineman (“Our Time”) directs one of the most astonishing films on the ruthless drug cartels operating in a corrupt Mexico and infiltrating American soil on the overwhelmed border states that lack the ways to keep the illegals out. This superb documentary, with unprecedented access to the participants for and against the cartels, gives us a more penetrating look at the border crisis than we get from our media.

After showing numerous barbarian acts by the cartels (headless vics and such), Heineman crosscuts the compelling stories of two vigilante groups on both sides of the border fighting the cartels as Davids battling against Goliaths. The heroic figures, though controversial, are the good guy vigilantes who tells us they do so because both governments are too weak, too ineffective and corrupt to fight the cartels. The two vigilante leaders are: Dr. Jose Mireles, the suave elderly leader of the Michoacán state’s “white shirts”—the Autodefensas who wage vigilante warfare against his area’s ruthless cartels and the cleaned-up American vet Tim “Nailer” Foley fighting in a military way to keep drugs out of the country. He leads the Arizona Border Recon, who at first went after illegals on its unauthorized border patrols because the regular border guards were under-manned but switched to tracking the movements of the cartels. The evil cartels are the drug traffickers who bring in great supplies of drugs that make life so miserable for so many Americans and in their thinking are an even greater threat to the country than the illegals.

The action is chilling and unforgettable, as the non-fiction film resembles a fictional action thriller. Besides the great action sequences, it tells us how lawless are the regions around the border and the Mexican countrysides, and how futile are the efforts of both governments in waging their failing War on Drugs.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”