There’s a lot of stuff out there in Content Land about the Mexican Cartels and their movement around the border. This doc, a criss-crossing exploration of two vigilante movements on either side of the US/Mexico border, looks to explore the resistant to these Cartels from the ground up.
Wow. Absolutely, wow. Cartel Land is amazing. Director Matthew Heineman journeys to both the border of US/Mexico to spend time with Tim “Nailer” Foley, a former-Army-turned-vigilante who patrols a particularly rough area of the border with his militia group the Arizona Border Recon, and to the Mexican state of Michocoan to explore the citizen army Autodefensas and their charismatic leader Dr. Jose Mireles. This is not an easy documentary to watch. The two forces, separate but linked by a similar want to expel, or kill, those who perpetuate the “evil” of the Mexican Cartels, exemplify the term “vigilante.” These are pro-violence groups who are doing what they think necessary to protect the people, or the nations, they love. While Tim “Nailer” Foley espouses much of what we’ve come to dislike about the border vigilante movement – the racism, the tunnel-vision, the disregard for American law – his passion reflects that of Dr. Jose Mireles, a complicated character who’s urge to expunge the Cartels from his home state is buffered by a corrupt organization slowly crumbling beneath him. Heineman is a deft hand with both camera and content, and Cartel Land exposes both the flaws and weaknesses that live within these types of movements, but also the passion and rationalization that might lead one to take up arms as a vigilante. The film is beautifully shot, all stark imagery and desaturated colors, pulling the viewer into these two worlds. There are no punches pulled, images of decapitated heads and men hanging fill the screen, but none of it feels exploitive or purely filmed for shock value. Instead, Heineman uses his amazing camera work and his ability to capture the right moments and the right time, to craft a documentary that captures the struggle to do what one’s government cannot, regardless of the consequences. A beautiful, jarring film, and one that sits at the very top of my list for best films of the year so far.
Regardless of our actions, the world keeps moving, good or bad.