Take a Drink: for justifications
Take a Drink: for retaliations
Take a Drink: for jaw-dropping racism
Do a Shot: whenever you can’t believe that got caught on camera
By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
One of the most acclaimed films of the year, Sicario, has come under a bit of fire for not realistically presenting the situation of Drug Cartel-run border towns, using an exaggerated, horror-film aesthetic when discussing a problem that doesn’t need any sensationalizing. If anything, though, Cartel Land proves they may have been underplaying things…
Heads on soccer fields qualifies as just another Sunday afternoon anymore
Documentary filmmaker Matthew Heineman examines the ever-present Drug War from three perspectives, gaining an insane level of access to each- American border patrol militiamen, Mexican Autodefensas- bands of heavily armed citizens retaking large portions of the embattled state of Michoacan from the Cartels, and meth-making Cartel members themselves.
Every side gets their due, and their six feet of rope with which to hang themselves. The level of frankness that Heineman is able to elicit from his interview subjects, and lengths to which he’s willing to go in order to document this story- from more in situ firefights than I could count to agreeing to be blindfolded and transported out into the desert ostensibly to film the cooking of a batch of meth- is positively stunning.
What emerges over the course of the film is a portrait of the Drug War that is so suffused with grey that light and dark are no longer distinguishable. Even when you think you’re witnessing a good thing, like the way that townspeople rush to the town square to support the civilian Autodefensas when the military arrives to confiscate their weapons, it’s not a feeling that lasts, as the corruptibility of this movement becomes clear and the common people turn against just another group with guns, breaking into their houses and dictating their daily lives.
They’re… probably getting tired of this.
You start to realize with a sinking feeling in your stomach, as ostensible beacon of hope Manuel Mireles feels up a beauty queen 30 years his junior, that anybody with any measure of power in this struggle cannot be trusted. When the meth cooks at the end of the film reveal that part of their profits actually fund the Autodefensas, or that a father/son chemist team from the States is where their cooking knowledge comes from, it’s hard to really be all that surprised, or at all incredulous.
This film does not shy away from the horrors of its story. You will see dead bodies, decapitated heads, and freshly spilled blood. This is not a film for those who wish to remain ignorant of those realities- and I really, really can’t blame you if you do.
Otherwise, one scene that rubbed me the wrong way was a miked rendezvous between Mireles and his young probably not entirely willing lover. It’s really beside the point that he’s fucking around on his wife (the feeling-up scene is more disturbing as a demonstration of abuse of power, not of infidelity), and in no way functions as the climax that running time-wise it apparently is meant to be.
The one element that doesn’t really cohere is the border patrol vigilante. His compatriots express some brazen but not terribly surprising racist sentiments, and there’s an interesting idea that for all their apparent paranoia, they may really be very few in the U.S. who have any idea how bad it is just over the Rio Grande… and how close it is becoming an American issue, if it isn’t already. However, Heineman fails to put these two sections in dialogue with each other in the same way he does the two sides of the Cartel/Autodefensas conflict, and it’s hard to see why he felt he needed to include this part at all.
The film ends with a Cartel meth cook stating “Somewhere along the way, everyone got corrupted. It’s just a never-ending story.” It’s hard to even imagine a set of circumstances that could put an end to that story.