“Cartel Land” tells of battles between drug czars, vigilantes


Chance Williams, Student reporter

Summary: “Cartel Land” is a documentary that tells the unapologetic story of two vigilante groups battling a terrorizing drug cartel in Mexico and the United States.
Directed by:  Matthew Heineman
Release Date:  July 3, 2015
Run time:  100 minutes
Rated:  R

Matthew Heineman takes viewers on a virtual tour of the new war on drugs in his latest film “Cartel Land,” which was produced by filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow of “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty” fame.
The film opens with what seems like a scene straight out of “Breaking Bad” as a handful of cartel members whip up a batch of meth and explain they are the most powerful cartel in Michoacán, Mexico, and were taught how to make the best meth around by a father and son team from America who studied chemistry.
The film follows two vigilante groups on both sides of the border that are fighting the Knights of Templar drug cartel.  We are introduced to the American side of vigilantism in the form of Tim “Nailer” Foley, a former meth addict who is part of the Arizona Border Recon, a group of men and women who patrol the southwestern U.S. border looking for cartel activity and illegal immigrants trying to enter.
After Foley takes Heineman and his crew on a tour of the area they patrol, the film moves to Michoacán, Mexico, where we are introduced to the charismatic Dr. José Manuel Mireles, who heads up the vigilante group named the Autodefensa.
The introduction to Mireles and the Autodefensa is much more troubling than Foley’s introduction.
Mireles shows an image on his cell phone to the filmmakers of the heads of three of his neighbors who were decapitated by the Templar cartel.  Prior to that, a story is told about a group of lime pickers and their children who were murdered and tossed into a well as punishment to the field owner, who owed money to the cartel.  This all establishes the reason for starting up the Autodefensa group.
From there, the film speeds off into the world of vigilantism.
The Autodefensa arrives in the town of Apo, where they are met by the government and are disarmed because the government claims they are not wanted in the town and the people are scared.
The members of the Autodefensa call on the townspeople to come out and speak their minds about who they want in their town.  The masses come out to support the Autodefensa and run the government military out of the town, claiming that the military was a major source of corruption.
This paints a picture of how serious the problem has become in Mexico when the people have more trust in a vigilante group than their own government.
Though Mireles and Foley are completely different men fighting two different aspects of the war against the cartels, they share a love for vigilantism and guns and both have a different style of charisma that draws followers in.
The two men never meet each other and more than likely don’t know the other exists, but in this film, they seem to be in a brotherhood together in the same war, just on different battlefronts.
The film moves through the streets of Mexico with gunfights and horrifying stories from survivors of torture, murder and rape from the hands of the Templar cartel.  It’s a steely, cold truth to the situation of the drug issues in Mexico and along the Southwestern borders of the United States.
The film is a hard pill to swallow at times because of the rawness and truth of what is happening in our world today, but that’s what makes it such a great film.
There hasn’t been a documentary this good in quite some time, so if you’re an avid documentary fan, this is a must see film.
Even if you’re a casual documentary film fan, then this is a film to see and not risk wasting an hour and a half of your time on a lesser film.
Heineman has created a documentary that feels much like a narrative film, and it has a good chance of walking away with Oscar gold this year.
So far, the film has won the Best Director Award and Special Jury Award for Cinematography at Sundance.
The film is currently available on iTunes.
Find out more about the film by visiting its website:  http://cartellandmovie.com.