Thursday, 10 September 2015


The strictest national border and the slackest moral lines draw up a map defined by confusion and dominated by exploitation. People are stranded within, but Cartel Land is not their story, though it just as easily could be - it's the story of those who devote their lives to changing this map's landscape, all for the better and all for the worse. The heroes are self-serving hypocrites and crooks, the villains are desperate and poverty-stricken. The border distinguishes not between rich and poor but between perceptions on the distribution of wealth, and on the distinction between right and wrong. Those moral lines are drawn differently depending on the person, and influenced by their experiences - so much subjectivity yields a situation in which too few have no stake, and thus the collective stakes are raised too high to handle. Cartel Land pursues only a number of experiences in Mexico and Arizona, exploring the nature of the fight against the illegal drug trade, which itself begets many more fights to be fought, and is begotten from many more also. A fittingly intense film, director Matthew Heineman forgoes the numerous opportunities to encourage judgement, and focuses on the action - quite literally, as the film is liberally dotted with tense, arresting, real-life action sequences, some judiciously edited, all undeniably engaging. Heineman's own moral interpretation of these events hardly needs explicated, as in juxtaposing the authenticity of the situations he documents with the far-flung propagandised hyperbole in America's conservative south, he actually discourages judgement outright, adopting a sober, even sombre tone as the film's moral lines become ever more blurry.