Series such as The Wire and, more recently, Breaking Bad use the murky glamour of the drug world to great effect, attracting huge audiences and garnering multiple awards along the way. Cartel Land however, approaches this so-called glamorous subject from a somewhat more human and factual point of view.
The film portrays three seperate perspectives on the problem of drug cartels in Mexico, and in so doing gives us a more balanced overview of the situation as a whole. The first and last scenes of the film feature interviews with people who ‘cook’ drugs like crystal meth, while the rest of the film focuses partly on a group of Mexican civilians who call themselves the ‘Autodefensas’ and who have been attempting to reclaim control of their towns and villages, and partly on a small band of vigilantis who patrol part of the border between Mexico and the United States in an attempt to prevent drug smugglers and people trafficers from crossing the border. The director does not shy away from the occasionally gruesome aspects of the topic at hand, and does not attempt to favour one point of view over another. Rather, the viewer is exposed to a variety of opinions and activities and is encouraged to draw his or her own conclusions.
The film was extremely engaging and informative. However, it was a little long for my taste and, one could say, slightly over stylised. Virtually every scene smacks of sensationalist journalism reminiscent of articles and videos that you often find on Vice. This isn’t meant to be a criticism of said platform, but rather an observation that there are certain styles of journalism that can start to grate over time!
I really enjoyed the film and found the cyclical structure that was employed (I refer here to the first and last scenes being used to portray the cooks) to be very efective. At times the point of view of the American vigilante group did appear to be a little tangential to the main focus of the film, but I respect the director for what I took to be his loyalty to the ‘balanced perspective’ vision he was trying to achieve.