Cartel Land 4.0 stars

Cartel Land movie poster

Director Matthew Heineman documents the lives of two vigilante group leaders, one on each side of the US-Mexico border: Tim "Nailer" Foley of Arizona Border Recon, and Dr. Jose "El Doctor" Mireles of the Michoacan Autodefensas. Both are fighting the Mexican drug cartels — though Mireles' struggle has the urgency of beheaded neighbors and frequent firefights with the Templar cartel that runs his home region, and so gets the bulk of the attention — because both have concluded that the rule of law isn't getting the job done. Two things mark the film as exceptional. First, Heineman's level of sustained access to his subjects' interior and exterior lives: Nailer is gradually transformed from American extremist to wounded warrior, while Mireles goes from badass community organizer to populist superhero to humbled icon. The camera and/or microphone are running throughout, in situations of astonishing intimacy (infidelities, confessions, recoveries) and terrifying danger (gunfire, torture, execution orders). Second, the nearly unbelievable narrative structure; it's one thing to invent a vigilante drama as darkly perfect as this, it's another to capture it as it actually unfolds. Two excellent portraits, one amazing story. 2015.

Matthew Lickona

This movie is not currently in theaters.

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