Cartel Land: Gripping, Important Mexican Cartel Doc Transports Viewers



With unprecedented access, CARTEL LAND is a riveting, on-the-ground look at the journeys of two modern-day vigilante groups and their shared enemy - the murderous Mexican drug cartels. In the Mexican state of Michoacán, Dr. Jose Mireles, a small-town physician known as “El Doctor,” leads the Autodefensas, a citizen uprising against the violent Knights Templar drug cartel that has wreaked havoc on the region for years. Meanwhile, in Arizona’s Altar Valley - a narrow, 52-mile-long desert corridor known as Cocaine Alley - Tim “Nailer” Foley, an American veteran, heads a small paramilitary group called Arizona Border Recon, whose goal is to stop Mexico’s drug wars from seeping across our border. Filmmaker Matthew Heineman embeds himself in the heart of darkness as Nailer, El Doctor, and the cartel each vie to bring their own brand of justice to a society where institutions have failed. From executive producer Kathryn Bigelow (THE HURT LOCKER, ZERO DARK THIRTY), CARTEL LAND is a chilling, visceral meditation on the breakdown of order and the blurry line between good and evil. At the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, Heineman received both the Directing Award and Special Jury Award for Cinematography in the U.S. Documentary competition.



Cartel Land is a gritty expose on clashing violent Mexican drug cartels and the American militia movement and how it effects each country. It is difficult to watch but important and rather relevant and topical to today’s headlines especially since immigration is becoming a hot button issue again with an upcoming Presidential Election thanks to people like Donald Trump. It is an emotional problem with no easy answers. What I liked about Cartel Land is it doesn’t tell you want to think, but rather impartial covering a complicated and controversial topic. Cartel Land is cutting edge as it guides viewers on an experience even the best Vice could never offer to viewers. This is what embedded, undercover and underground journalism truly looks like.


Cartel Land
Cartel Land is a gritty expose…it is difficult to watch but important.


Cartel Land is tough but important to watch. It features some rather tense and disturbing moments from pictures of be-headings to shootings right out a war zone situation! There’s an underling theme of fear and loss of identity when we compare the militia men to the cartel gangs. Who is in control of the situation? We don’t know. There is a heartbreaking and haunting scene involving a little girl crying over her father who will be questioned by authorities. It gets worse a few scenes later. This is a situation with little control and emotionally taxing especially among Mexican citizens. As the rule of law breakdown and institutions fail, concerned people seek to take matters in their own hands. The militia may be protecting their country but other want peace and sell drugs to make a living.


I have a feeling that Cartel Land could be one of the five full length movies nominated for the Best Documentary Oscar next year. It is in the vein of past nominees such as Restrepo and The Square that discusses a challenging, International topic in a balanced, unfiltered manner. We learn a lot about this situation from a variety of perspectives. It doesn’t pander to one side or the other. Since it won an award at Sundance, it reminded me of the movie Western which covered a similar topic, but in a different manner. Like producer Katherine Bigelow’s other war movies such as Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker, we have a grim snapshot of a global, war infested issue that blurs lines between good guy and bad guy. Not meaning to stir emotions, Cartel Land presents the politically charged issue with nuanced restraint.



  • I rate Cartel Land - 8.5/10

About Kenny Miles

Whether something is overlooked by Hollywood or whatever business trend has captured the Entertainment Industry’s attention, Kenny Miles loves to talk about movies (especially the cultural impact of a film). He covers various aspects of movies including specialty genre films, limited release, independent, foreign language, documentary features, and THE much infamous "awards season." Also, he likes to offer his opinion on the business of film, marketing strategy, and branding. He currently resides in Denver, Colorado and is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society critics group. When he isn’t writing, Kenny channels his passion for interacting with moviegoers (something most movie pundits lack) as a pollster for the market research company CinemaScore and working as floor staff/special events coordinator in the film community. You can follow him on Twitter @kmiles723.