|Autodefensa member standing guard in Michoacán, Mexico, from CARTEL LAND, a film by Matthew Heineman Photographer: Matthew Heineman|
2015, 98 minutes
Review by Joshua Handler
This review was originally published on April 26, 2015 out of the Tribeca Film Festival. Cartel Land hits U.S. theaters today.
Cartel Land is an unflinching and utterly hopeless look at a war with no end in sight. Heineman refuses to sugar coat anything. He shows this drug war in all of its brutality. Much of Cartel Land is hard to watch, but it's impossible to turn away.
With this film, Heineman makes the drug war personal. By following citizens fighting drug cartels on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, Heineman shows the effects this drug war has on people's lives. The intensity of the trauma described and depicted is indescribably disturbing, and Heineman doesn't shy away from the horrors.
Most importantly, Cartel Land is a ruthless exposé of the Mexican government's involvement in and inability to control the drug war. The American government doesn't get a pass from this film, but it's mainly the Mexican government that is targeted by it and for good reason. This war will never end if people involved in the Mexican government keep supporting the drug cartels.
Overall, Cartel Land accomplishes the impossible: it manages to create a portrait of one of the most complex conflicts of today in 98 minutes. While ultimately too long, every second of this film is compelling, rendering the overlong running time unimportant. With twists and turns that could only happen in real life, Cartel Land is yet another example of the truth being far stranger than fiction.