Cartel Land Screen 15 articles

Cartel Land


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  • I finally saw something I really and truly despised, the one time this happened at Sundance. I question neither director Matthew Heineman’s sincerity of intent nor his camera-up, head-down courage in filming Cartel Land, a tremendously dangerous piece of work about the border drug wars... [It's] an absolute mess of a film that raises the question: what happens when access doesn’t equal insight?

  • Many of the scenes shot in Mexico are riveting; however, Heineman’s failure to contextualize his images, provide essential information for the audience, or develop a point of view are serious problems that will result in many viewers drawing some of the same conclusions they are likely to draw from Sicario about limitless Mexican corruption and anarchy, American innocence, and the nobility of masculine, violent resistance against the cartels.

  • The greatest strength of Cartel Land also raises a nagging ethical weakness. Dropped into the heart of this long-running drug war, Heineman and fellow cameraman Matt Porwoll artfully, successfully convey the gritty reality of shootouts and beatings. Yet these moments of bloodshed are also aestheticized with tension-heightening music and gorgeous post-battle shots of the triumphant, conquering Autodefensas.

  • Heineman captures [the cartels'] ascents with the gusto of an embedded journalist, trailing them closely as they absorb intelligence, disseminate propaganda, and creep toward outbursts of gunfire. His film is long on suspense and frontline news, but it's unfocused and out of balance as a character study.

  • Whatever one’s moral qualms regarding the Autodefensas—and Heineman makes a point of showing that Mireles, who’s married, has a penchant for using his celebrity to seduce much younger women—there’s no denying the engrossing nature of the footage shown here, or that the people involved are fighting for their own lives. So it’s not at all clear why Heineman also devotes a large chunk of Cartel Land to Tim “Nailer” Foley, an Arizona resident who heads up his own border patrol.

  • The director Matthew Heineman has a terrific eye. And, to judge from “Cartel Land,” his immersive documentary about American and Mexican vigilante groups, he also has guts and nerves of steel... Yet the film moves so quickly and fluidly and with such unnerving violence that it doesn’t give you much time or space to think through the serious, urgent issues it raises.

  • As a story of talented filmmakers in over their heads in a foreign land, diving deep and capturing incredible sights but not necessarily understanding the nuances of the politics or culture at hand, it’s a fascinating, often thrilling document. Unfortunately the film also offers an ideas-piece thesis about vigilantism, intercutting footage of the autodefensas with American militia yahoos on the New Mexico border, a misfire that invalidates the film’s otherwise serviceable naive POV.

  • While Heineman’s film is an interesting experiment, with pulse-pounding action throughout, its morally objectifiable construction makes it a too hard to recommend in good faith. It is surely a strong film, and one that needs to be made again and again until the world wakes up to the true situation across the Mexican border... however this isn’t the way to go about it, lacking the right sort of punch to enact change.

  • Startling access yields strong if not consistent results in "Cartel Land" ...There’s no lack of immediacy in the footage south of the border, where Heineman, who filmed with a small crew and served as one of his own cinematographers, captures the eruption of live fire, a gunpoint interrogation in the back of a moving car and even a scene of torture. Several instances make you fear for the filmmakers’ safety.

  • The film provides a fascinating, on-the-ground account of people struggling with situations that range from challenging to horrific. Not for the faint of heart, it sometimes puts its cameras right it the middle of gun battles, for a result that is extremely dramatic even if it also leaves a number of important questions regrettably unanswered.

  • The movie is neither as artful nor as edifying as the recent documentary Narco Cultura or the recent dramatic feature Miss Bala, which deal with the same subject, but it's still a worthwhile report on a pressing humanitarian issue.

  • The director’s access has ensured that we get scenes of startling, real-life violence and hair-raising suspense. Many will argue that the film doesn’t thoroughly explore all the political nuances of this issue. But nuance isn’t part of the game here: Heineman wants to thrill us and shock us into awareness. In that, he succeeds marvelously.

  • How rare, and what a thrill, to see a documentary that could double in large part as its own narrative remake. Most docs are woefully uncinematic, strings of talking heads and archival footage that too often ends with links to “for further information” websites. Cartel Land, exhilaratingly, could not be translated into an op-ed piece.

  • Any discussion of how the evolution of digital cameras has transformed documentary filmmaking would do well to start with Matthew Heineman’s Cartel Land, a work of both stunning beauty and stunning immediacy.

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    Sight & Sound: Rachael Rakes
    July 31, 2015 | September 2015 Issue (pp. 69-70)

    The structural organisation of Cartel Land at once resembles a typical profile doc and a typical action film. The primary story arc has been crafted comfortably into a hero/downfall progression, and scenes are played for maximum emotional impact and breathless thrill. Shot in 'Scope with an ultra-professional score and impressive in-the-middle-of-war camerawork, the film is made up of moments that could easily be transported into a fictionalised version of itself.

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