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Cartel Land (2015) Online

Cartel Land (2015) Online
Original Title :
Cartel Land
Genre :
Movie / Documentary
Year :
Directror :
Matthew Heineman
Cast :
Tim Nailer Foley,José Manuel 'El Doctor' Mireles,Paco Valencia
Type :
Time :
1h 40min
Rating :

Filmmaker Matthew Heineman examines the state of the ongoing drug problem along the U.S.-Mexican border.

Cartel Land (2015) Online

A physician in Michoacán, Mexico leads a citizen uprising against the drug cartel that has wreaked havoc on the region for years. Across the U.S. border, a veteran heads a paramilitary group working to prevent Mexico's drug wars from entering U.S. territory.
Cast overview:
Tim Nailer Foley Tim Nailer Foley - Himself (as Tim 'Nailer' Foley)
José Manuel 'El Doctor' Mireles José Manuel 'El Doctor' Mireles - Himself, leader and founder, Autodefensas
Paco Valencia Paco Valencia - Himself, Autodefensas Comandante
Chaneque Chaneque - Himself, drug cartel thug
Caballo Caballo - Himself, drug cartel thug
Enrique Peña Nieto Enrique Peña Nieto - Himself
Ana Valencia Ana Valencia - Herself, Manuel Mireles' wife
Estanislao Beltránin Estanislao Beltránin - Himself, spokesman, Autodefensas
Janet Fields Janet Fields - Herself, Tim Foley's girlfriend
Nicolás Sierra Nicolás Sierra - Himself (as as Nicolás Sierra 'El Gordo')
Karla Karla - Herself
Alfredo Castillo Cervantes Alfredo Castillo Cervantes - Himself, Mexican political (as Alfredo Castillo)
María Imilse Arrué María Imilse Arrué - Herself (as María Imilse)

The Autodefensas group shown in the film was created by civilians to stand up against the cartels because the government is overrun with corruption. Individuals speak about how little the Mexican president (Enrique Peña Nieto) is doing. In the film, the Autodefensas is shown celebrating its one year anniversary on February 24, 2014. On that exact same day, TIME Magazine ran an issue with the Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto with the headline "Saving Mexico." Nieto reportedly paid TIME $44,000 for this cover article coincidentally released on the same day as the Autodefensas anniversary.

Winner of the George Polk Award for documentary film in 2016. The prize is meant to honor reporters who advanced vital national conversations with their masterful investigative reporting.

User reviews



This documentary is about Mexico and cartels, but it is also about vigilantism in general. Is it OK to take the law into your own hands? Does this freedom corrupt? The documentary explores two (related) instances of vigilantism, and it does so in a critical, but nuanced way. It reflects upon the motives of the people involved, and their situation. This exploration is what really makes this documentary great. It throws some light on the situation in Mexico in a way that is both thrilling and heartbreaking - but by focusing on the acts of the vigilantes, the documentary becomes timeless.

The people behind this went to great lengths to get some really(!) impressive footage. How they convinced people involved to let them film all of this is beyond me.

A warning though: There were some scenes here where I had to look away because of the images shown.


Deep in the desert, where no legitimate government rules, a terrorist organization operates freely. Established governments fear them. They're well-financed, violent and ruthless. They control large swaths of land, including some cities and towns, causing local residents to live in fear. The members of this organization think nothing of murdering their enemies or killing just to make a point. They murder men, women and children, and even celebrate those deaths. They often decapitate their victims and sometimes use the internet to publicize videos and photos of their brutality. They even evoke the name of their god to justify their actions.

I'm not talking about the Middle East or ISIS. I'm talking about Mexican drug cartels.

The documentary "Cartel Land" (R, 1:38) shows everything I just described and more, but focuses mainly on vigilante groups who fight the cartels – on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border. The film's title refers to areas of Mexico – and areas of the United States as well. U.S. Marine veteran Tim "Nailer" Foley leads a small paramilitary group called Arizona Border Recon whose volunteer members carry semi-automatic rifles and patrol Arizona's Altar Valley ("Cocaine Alley") for any sign of drug traffickers operating on the U.S. side of the border. Meanwhile, Jose Mireles leads the Autodefensas, whose members carry similar weapons in their quest to root out members of the ruthless drug cartel which operates in the area around the western Mexican state of Michoacán. Both of these vigilante groups operate outside of their government's good graces but both governments refrain from direct action against the groups, even seeming to work with them on some level.

The film alternates between following both groups as they struggle to turn back the advancing tide of cartels operating in their areas and also deal with manpower and leadership issues and with the friction between them and their respective governments. The story of these two vigilante groups is bookended by scenes shot during methamphetamine production by cartel affiliates at a remote outdoor location in Mexico. With their faces covered, this small group of men goes about their business unfettered and they even talk to the camera. At one point, their leader admits that what they're doing is wrong, but doesn't seem to care. He says that they'll continue cooking meth "as long as God allows it". Similarly, the leaders of both Arizona Border Recon and the Autodefensas justify their actions, even as some of their methods resemble those of the cartels.

"Cartel Land" does things that I've never seen before in any documentary and does others better than I've ever seen them done. I've rarely praised either of these in other documentaries, but the cinematography and the score are both magnificent. Even more impressive than how it was shot is where it was shot. Besides gaining practically unprecedented access to that secret meth lab, director Matthew Heineman embeds with these vigilante groups, following them on their missions and getting up close and personal with some of the action in some obviously dangerous situations. (The film won the directing and cinematography awards in its category at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.) The editing is also extremely impressive. The film contains more surprising reveals and vital story developments than in many traditional movie thrillers. Besides Heineman's obvious talents (and guts), it probably didn't hurt that one of the doc's executive producers is Kathryn Bigelow, Oscar-winning director of "The Hurt Locker" and "Zero Dark Thirty". Bigelow and Heineman's film is quite simply one of the best documentaries I have ever seen and only the second one that I have ever given this grade: "A".


This moving and compelling documentary paints a vivid picture of the tragic situation involving the cartels, police, military, government, and citizens of Mexico. This story is too little known north of the border, and that's why this documentary is important and should be seen. The director's bravery in obtaining some amazing footage is to be commended.

However, in my opinion the filmmaker has made a serious and even offensive misstep in trying to create a parallel between the vigilantes of the Autodefensas and the vigilantes of the Arizona Border Recon. Quoting from the doc's website, the premise is that these groups "vie to bring their own brand of justice to a society where institutions have failed."

It's abundantly clear that in Mexico, to put it as neutrally as possible, institutions (government, police, military) have failed to protect citizens from cartel- sponsored violence. The tragic consequences of this failure are made disturbingly real in the film.

However, the idea that U.S. government, police, and military have failed to protect the citizens of Arizona from cartel-sponsored violence is just absurd. Worse, by comparing a flawed Mexican leader who is apparently sincerely trying to address a horrific situation to a flawed American "leader" who is off on some crackpot right-wing conspiracy theory where the danger is mostly in his head, the film ends up insulting the actual pain and suffering experienced by the people of Mexico. However much the Arizona guy wants to say he's really focusing on the cartel's activity in the Arizona desert (how does that work, again?), his true motive is to stop people from crossing the border because he has an anti-immigration ax to grind. However you feel about immigration, U.S.-based anti- immigrant vigilantism is not analogous to the motives or efforts of the Autodefensas. Comparing the two insults the Mexican people's suffering and the Autodefensas courage, however flawed their leaders and unsuccessful their efforts may be.

If the filmmaker wanted to bring in important information from the U.S. side of the border, he might have tried providing some information about how our government's "War on Drugs" has paralleled the cartel's rise (coincidence?), or the blood that's on our hands because we're the ones buying the drugs.

Instead, he makes a false parallel with a group of anti-immigrant wingnuts. If you want to make a documentary to show that anti- immigrant wingnuts are people too, go ahead, but don't try to compare the Arizona Border Recon to the Autodefensas. That's not an intellectually fascinating parallel, as the filmmaker apparently believes. It's just pretentious and, really, disgusting.


"Carte Land" (2015 release; 100 min.) is a documentary that examines what is happening in the Mexican state of Michoacán, in south-west Mexico (about 1,000 miles from the US border), and in a separate story, we also take a look at what some people are doing at the Arizona border with Mexico. As the documentary opens, we see Mexican guys cooling up meth somewhere in Michoacán. Comments one: "We know we do harm, but we come from poverty". Then we get to know a woman, who lost 13 (!) family members, all brutally murdered by the cartel when their employer (owner of a lime orchard) couldn't pay the cartel, so they shot his employees as revenge. Then we get to know Dr. Mireles, a Michoacán-based physician who is sick and tired of the violence, and realizing that the official authorities will not/cannot do anything, he decides to start the Autodefensas, a grass roots movement to claim back the streets and towns of Michoacán.

Couple of comments: first, this is another documentary from producer-director Matthew Heineman, and with this latest, he hits the bull's eye. The situation in the Mexican state of Michoacán is so bad that people are outright desperate for relief, ANY relief. There is an astonishing scene that plays out in the city of Apo, where the Autodefensas capture several cartel members. Then the Mexican Army comes sweeping in, and tries to disarm the Autodefensas (yes! not the cartel). The town's population quickly gathers and essentially howls the Army back out of town. Jaw-dropping. There are other such scenes in this riveting, and revolting, documentary. With revolting, I refer of course to the deplorable situation the Mexican people find themselves in, left to their own devices with the state or federal authorities pretty much absent. Beware, on several occasions there is shocking forage or pictures, and this documentary is most certainly not for the faint of heart. Second, the 'parallel' story of the Arizona Border Recon, with veterans taking it on themselves to patrol the border to keep migrants out, falls utterly short and frankly looks a bit silly as compared to the stuff we see happening in Michoacán. It would've made the documentary even better by simply focusing on what is happening on the ground in Mexico. But even with that unnecessary side story, "Cartel Land" is an unforgettable documentary.

"Cartel Land" made quite a splash at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, and when out of the blue this showed up at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati this weekend, I couldn't believe my luck and went to see it right away. The matinée screening where I saw this at was a private affair, as in: I literally was the only person in the theater. That is a darn shame, as "Cartel Land" makes for compelling, if at times uncomfortable, viewing. If you get an opportunity to check this out and draw your own conclusions, be it at the theater, on Amazon Instant Video, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, do not miss it! "Cartel Land" is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!


Greetings again from the darkness - from the Dallas International Film Festival. Even in this digital age where information exists from all sides of a conflict … often with corresponding video, the general public somehow remains complacent to issues that don't directly and obviously affect their lifestyle. Skilled documentarian Matthew Heineman ignores the rhetoric of political speeches and plops the war against drug cartels right into our lap.

This is a different approach to a topic with which we are all at least somewhat familiar. The involved parties include the affected communities (in Mexico and Arizona), the governments and affiliated agencies (DEA, Border Patrol), the ever-expanding vigilante groups of citizens (Arizona Border Recon, AutoDefensas), and of course the cartels (focus on Knights Templar).

Intimacy is the key here, as Mr. Heineman takes us inside these groups with an up-close look at leaders. Especially fascinating is Dr. Mireles who is the face of the AutoDefensas – a group he pledges will protect communities from the cartels, who clearly have no regard for human life. The film doesn't shy away from the expected issues: citizen pushback, greed, abuse of power, and corruption. As AutoDefensas teams with the Mexican government to create the Rural Defense Force, we can't help but wonder if the rumors of differing goals are at play in the drug battles. Citizens want safety, but what is it that the government wants? Is the goal drug-free streets or is it a cut of the action.

Learning how desperate the vigilantes are to protect their homes, turf and way of life, we are left with little doubt of their mission. It's everyone else that we must keep questioning and holding accountable. This is not an easy documentary to watch, but it's necessary if you have previously lost interest as the next politician proclaims he will continue "the war on drugs".


The Mexican side of this documentary is more than intriguing. What people go through is incredible. The patrol they created to fight against crime is something that most people probably stand behind and support too. The Arizona patrol on the other hand? A whole different beast (quite literally, especially considering the views they express and because it's not the same situation as across the border).

Having said that, and if you are able to judge on your own and not take some things that are being said as more than they are: there is a real tension that builds up and even concerns families, bullying and trying to bring order where order is not wanted by the government (at least the current government in Mexico that is). And that's the thing: While the documentary takes a stance against drug and criminality, it almost embraces racism on the other hand ... either stay neutral or really make a good point


Although he hasn't made the technical "best" documentary of the year), it's hard to see a documentary filmmaker who stuck his neck out more, literally, than Matthew Heienman to make Cartel Land (maybe Joshua Oppenheimer, in his way, put himself in danger to make his Indonesia docs, but he wasn't caught up in anything like this). He puts himself into some incredibly dangerous scenes, and from what I could tell it's not at all the case of him trying to get some extra dramatics or tension where there is none. On the contrary he follows the Mexican group the Autodefensas (at times when they are in the midst of shoot-outs and enemy fire) in their rise to become a major presence in Michoacan, Mexico, as well as how they became corrupted by the very forces they are/were up against.

So points automatically have to go to the director for that, and he clearly is passionate about this issue - and as the wisest choice he doesn't put himself into it in the slightest (very much the objective, here and there more like a war cine-journalist when with his camera on the streets and roads and interrogation rooms). But I do wish that he had stuck to the story of the Doctor Meirelles and his group, as he and the world that he's in is just more captivating and stronger as a story of a rise and fall than that of the American who is supposed to be the 'counter-point' or other side example.

His story, as a man who has split off from society (in part due to the 2008 economic collapse, among other issues), and formed a small would be (?) militia patrolling parts of the Mexican border for immigrants, could be compelling. But it's not even so much that the contrast or point-counter-point of him and the Doctor might not have some interest (I think the point ultimately is one guy really is fighting for his life and for others, and the other is more about rounding up illegal immigrants where, for some reason, border patrol doesn't seem to be around), it's more a flaw of filmmaking. I think that if Heineman had kept it all down as a story of the Autodefensas, he would have a full movie to tell, and indeed the two places - on the US/Mexico border and Michoacan, which is over a thousand miles away to the south - are so far apart that they don't have much relation to one another exactly. Of course the cartels are a problem in one spot as much as the other, yet on a simple film editing level, it throws off the balance.

This could have been two documentaries, perhaps, again to bring up Oppenheimer, as compliments to one another. It's a shame that it doesn't work much better, since there's a lot of potent, incendiary stuff here. When Cartel Land works best, it all but indicts a country for not doing far more than it should, or what the president or government claims to do (again, this is the documentary, I'd have to read up more to know if the filmmaker doesn't show more sides to what the police or other military forces may or may be doing for the Autodefensas to rise up in the first place), and that corruption and crime becomes just a fact of life. It displays another form of terrorism that seems not as apparent as, say, Islamic fundamentalism but is no less a threat to the people where it takes place, though oddly enough what the film shows is the danger of vigilantism as well.


The definition of "cartel" is: an international syndicate, combine, or trust formed especially to regulate prices and output in some field of business; I had heard the word in crime films and stuff, so it was going to be interesting to see how this Mexican / Spanish documentary film would look at them in real life. Basically this film looks at two two modern-day vigilante groups, the Arizona Border Recon, led by American veteran Tim "Nailer" Foley, and the Autodefensas, led by Michoacán-based physician Dr. "El Doctor" José Mireles. The film also looks at the two groups shared enemy, the murderous Mexican drug cartels, including the violent Knights Templar, who have wreaked havoc on the region for years. The film takes place in Michoacán, southwest Mexico, and Arizona, including Altar Valley, a desert corridor also known as Cocaine Alley, the three focused groups are both sides of the law and bring their own brand of justice to a society where institutions have failed. Director Matthew Heineman got up and close to the action, going to great lengths to capture the chilling and visceral actions of the two sides of this serious issue, including firefights, gunpoint interrogations and torture sessions, I agree with the critics that this film lacks objectivity and some kind of conclusion, but you cannot the deny power and it showing the blurry line between good and evil, an interesting enough documentary. It was nominated the Oscar and BAFTA for Best Documentary. Worth watching!


(I don't think this review contains spoilers.)

I began watching this believing it was a documentary, and it was compelling. Then, during the scene in which Papa Smurf is addressing angry townspeople, I had the sense that this scene was staged. Later, when the man in the Jeep is taken into custody, his daughter screaming "no quiero morir" ("I don't want to die") struck me as acting. A little further along, one of the vigilantes shows us his stun gun. When he activates it, we see a blue spark jump between the electrodes and we hear a clicking sound. I have one of these and it does neither when activated. Perhaps there are more powerful ones that do, but my credulity had already been compromised by the earlier scenes, so at this point I was suspicious of anything looking staged.

Finally, the scene where El Doctor visits his Mami, the crew stays behind the gates while we hear them speaking. But the sound quality of their conversation is as if the two had been miked; there is little background, ambient sound, and there voices are crisp and clear.

I'm not saying the entire film was staged, but these three scenes didn't ring true to me. The documentarian relies on honesty not out of an ethical choice, but for his own credibility. If you start staging certain scenes, how is the viewer to know if any of it--especially the shootouts--is real?


Editors note:

Almost always people comment on films on this website in quite a good way. So I never felt the urge to write/contribute something....

The film:

First of all I never wrote a review on this website before. And to be honest i don't think this will count as a review. Actually it was never my intention to write a review but more so to ask a critical question... Is this still a documentary? The quality of the images, the story and of the film in general are mind blowing! It gets you thinking and shows you the good, the bad and the ugly (pun intended).The story itself and the people involved are real, but in my opinion this is a reenactment! Staged, beautifully done but staged... The subject and the way they showed it is compelling, brutal at times, and it will get you thinking but I can't lose the feeling i watched a movie/film and not a documentary... Which is either brilliant or bad... Help me out, your thoughts pls.


Review: What a brilliant documentary! It really did seem like it was a feature film because it's full of action and intense drama. The director, Matthew Heineman, was lucky to gain the trust of Dr. José Mireles and Tim "Nailer" Foley, to go behind the scenes and film the gruesome problems in the Mexican state of Michoacan and the Arizona border, which is used by the drug cartels to bring drugs into America. Both stories involve heavy corruption, kidnap, horrifying murder, rape and black mail. Matthew put together enough material to tell the terrifying story about the drug cartels who will kill anybody who step in there way. Tim is an ex veteran who suffered abuse from his father and left home at the early age of 15. After working in various jobs and losing his house due to the credit crunch, he started to work alongside immigrants, who worked illegally and didn't pay any taxes. He then decided to use his savings to put together an elite force called the Arizona Border Recon in Arizona's Altar Valley, to stop the drug cartels from bringing there drugs into America and to stop the war causing any problems across the border. His small force use heavy artillery and patrol during day and night to protect his home and infiltrate the cartels various methods of trafficking drugs. As there isn't any laws to protect them, they basically take matters into there own hands and risk there life's for there country and to make sure that things don't get out of hand. While Tim is battling against the cartels, who are using the newest technology to communicate, Dr. José Mireles is also battling against the cartels but his war is to protect Michoacan and to gain control of the various towns which have many violent gang members, called the Knight Templars, who are causing havoc in there communities. After giving speeches in the various towns, he manages to put together a force called the Autodefensas, who use heavy artillery and group together in numbers to get the perpetrators out of the many villages. He successfully cleans up many of the small towns and he becomes highly respected around Michoacan. He then ends up in a plane crash, which paralysed a side of his face and seriously damages his back, so he takes time out from the Autodefensas and goes into hiding because he doesn't know if the crash was a hit from the cartels. On the anniversary of the Autodefensas, José comes out of hiding and takes back control of his elite force but everything has got out of control and a lot of the Autodefensas are using there powers to do bad things. As they haven't got the right to have guns and apply force around Michoacan, the government step in and build there own force, which pushes José out of control. All of his fellow workers join the government force because they are allowed to use guns by law and Jose's life becomes in danger because he has broken so many laws when he was in control. When they eventually catch up with José, they put him in a Federal Centre for Social Re-adaptation in Hermosillo, Sonora. Although he still gains support from the villagers, he has basically become a political prisoner who is kept behind bars to silence him and take full control of his elite force. It has all the makings for a brilliant film but as this is a documentary about true events, I found it thrilling and quite emotional, especially when you hear what some of the community went through. The story that was told by the lady who watched her husband being burnt to death, was awful and it really shows how far these cartels are willing to go, to bring fear into people's life's. There also are some intense shoot-outs which must have been extremely scary for the director, who was in the heart of the action. Anyway, this movie definitely gave a graphic insight into a world which I totally didn't know existed and right from the beginning, when the members of the cartels are cooking the "Meth", I was glued to the TV until the end. Great!

Round-Up: This brilliant documentary was put together by Matthew Heineman who brought you Overcoming The Storm, which is about several residents returning to there homes in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina, Our Time, which is about 4 youths who travel across America to ask there peers serious questions about life in America today and Escape Fire: The Fight Of Rescue American Healthcare, which uncovers the U.S. Healthcare systems true design. I personally would watch Matthew's other documentaries because he really did get to the heart of the problem with this movie and put his life on the line, to the point were he didn't put on his bullet proof vest during one of the shoot-outs because he wanted to catch all of the action on camera. The movie did make me investigate what really did happen to José, who is still in prison but I did find it a bit weird that no one looked into the camera during the scenes in the various villages and the shoot-outs. That did make me question if the documentary was real but when I watched the bonus material on the DVD, I realised that these events really did happen. The cartels value for life did shock me and I can't imagine how it must be to live your life in fear, 24 hours a day. I think you can tell that I really enjoyed this film and I hope that it gets the recognition that it deserves.

Budget: N/A Worldwide Gross: $1.1million

I recommend this movie to people who are into their documentary/action/drama movies about a physician in Michoacan, Mexico, who leads a citizen uprising against the drug cartel that has wreaked havoc on the region for years. 8/10


Are vigilantes reluctant heroes taking up arms to defend their communities? Or men of violence looking for a cause in which to fight? Can a band of local activists protect the people against a corrupt government? Or is an self-appointed institution always doomed, by its very nature, to be guilty of the same crimes it is founded to eliminate? Where does the greatest threat to a popular movement come from - the personal failings of a charismatic leader who can satisfy, but only for a moment, the people's desire for a saviour, or in the slime-ball sellouts who would replace him? These questions are deftly posed by 'Cartel Land', a documentary about the drug trade that focuses on the odd right-wing Minutemen of southern Arizona, who seem to feel it necessary to patrol the Mexican border for reasons unapparent, and the Atodefensas of central Mexico, a self-defence force fighting the drug cartels out of a self-evident desire for mere survival but which might possibly be just a new cartel in the making. The only certain conclusion from Matthew Heiman's bleak, compelling film is that the war on drugs is a war that can only be lost.


Saw this at the screening with Kathryn Bigelow and director Matthew Heineman at the Arclight Hollywood. Generally impressive documentary that primarily follows two fascinating central characters: "Nailer," a man leading a vigilante group attempting to stop drug trafficking on the Arizona border, and 'El Doctor,' the charismatic leader of an anti-cartel militia in Michoacan, Mexico. The power of the film lies in how intimately it tracks these two characters. You get a first-hand look at what it's like being on the front line on the wars in "Cartel Land." The filmmaker bravely places himself next to our central characters even as bullets fly by. The weakness of the film, in my opinion, is that we never really get a sense of the larger situation of the Mexican drug cartels. The documentary assumes that you'll read about them elsewhere, and instead focuses on the immediate experience of the main characters. While this serves as an engaging and immediate narrative, it provides for a bit of a tunnel-visioned experience to the broader picture on the war on drugs. Heineman argued that his intention with the film was simply to tell these personal stories, but in my opinion it suffers with the lack of information about the cartels themselves to give these powerful personal stories their context.


Cartel Land (2015) conquered Sundance for best documentary and director. Contrasting the peoples 'Autodefensas' militia in their Mexico Michoacán region, battle the Knights Templar drug cartel versus the upset white Arizona Border Recon 'vigilantes' patrolling the Arizona border.

Ignore the handful of reviews by viewers of this documentary or the dozens by professional film critiquers. This documentary is of unbiased quality, it shows the naked - and rather bipolar - actuality.

The present topicality is what seems to be a struggle between a distrusted, corrupt and bought Mexican government trying to reign in the power of the Mexican self-defense militias and arresting their leaders for possessing unregistered weaponries.

'When we captured criminals we turned them over to the federal authorities. But the authorities set them free with their guns and armor. And they started shooting and massacring us 24 hours later.' But then, needing funding for their upkeep, the now regulated 'Autodefensas' with a new leader started protecting their own meth cookers 'we can't help it because inevitably everyone here has gone corrupted'.

So a new cycle of drugs manufacture and protection has started in the Michoacán region, minus the rape, kidnappings and murder. A handful of volunteers joined the Arizona Border Recon.


I was not sure what to expect from this film. By seeing its poster, my mind was very clear that it definitely some serious subject. I'm kind of a person who's not okay with the lions killing a zebra on the animal planet, so I was worried about the clips they might show would be too violence. You know, in the movies everything's fake, and this isn't a movie, but a documentary. That's why I simply disliked 'The Act of Killing'.

The opening scene was something like 'Breaking Bad', so I thought it might told from the bad guy's perspective about how their network and business would work. But everything drastically changed after the 5- 10 minutes of the film. It's where the original story commence.

The two main characters were introduced who are fighting for a same cause, but separated by the international line. Across the border, under the different society and government, how these two sacrifice their lives in battle against the dangerous networks that threatens the peace is the story.

In a small town on the southern border of the US, a small paramilitary team headed by Tim has taken such a measure to prevent the all kinds of trafficking. In the same line, Dr. Mireles from the Michoacan, Mexico, goes a bit bigger and stronger by forming a force with the volunteered people with arms to fight for the same mission.

The film had many the phases, not like the chapters or the episodes, but like a split in the narration to cover the other side of the story. The stories of two men and their undertaking was the prime focus. That's what I thought, you know I felt it was a modern day 'The Magnificent Seven', but in the larger scale of everything. Only until a twist that surprised me, because I was not thought a tale would turn like this.

"I believe what I'm doing is good. And I believe what I'm standing up against is evil."

So what's the twist? I tell you, you know, one man was doing his task all by himself with the help of a few other buddies. On the other side, the man's contribution becomes the nation and international news and publicity. In such circumstance, a fame can turn the destiny of a man on whatever side. It's not like why he did what he had done, but a default human nature.

I thought 'Heli' was a fictional work. After seeing this documentary I'm not sure how to judge any country by what they depict in their films. Every nation has its flaws, but I wondered why Mexican government was so blind over drug trafficking as shown in this film, if the information was correct. The absence of the federal law enforcement agencies on those disputed places is really a humiliation for the government after this film officially entered the Oscars race.

I don't think taking action again them won't collapse the nation or the economy. And again, I'm not the right person here to analyse and predict the nation's fate. I've never been to Mexico and I know little about Mexico, but all this only because of the curious to know the truth, that's all. When it comes to the filmmaking, I don't know how it was made.

Documentaries usually follows with the series of interviews and the recorded clips, in this it was a live shot like any entertainment film. Maybe I must look for director's Q&A for the answers. But something was sure, that production happened at the right place at the right time.

This a very good documentary film, very gripping and interesting storyline with the characters. I don't watch documentaries on the regular basis and to be honest, I saw it for the Oscars nod, to know what its special. I don't think it is going to win, certainly I can't either rule out the chances as it made this far. Anything might happen, so wait and see.

It had a few dull moments, lot like a pause in the narration or took a wrong diversion after the first half. But during the conclusion, brought back to the track and clarified many doubts, yet leave a few unanswered. Not for the sake of the Academy Awards nominee, you can give it a try if you feel you're interested to know why the people are taking arms in their hands to fight the evil force that corrupting our society.



MY RATING 6 out of 10. This is an eye opening documentary which follows groups of vigilante's who are so fed up with Mexican drug cartels they have decided to do something about it. The problem is that the lines are blurred as to who the criminals are and on what side they are on. Watching this film you cant hep but think Mexico is buggered. There seems to be no order and the country is entirely corrupt. If i was a Mexican it would totally depress me. There are some very gruesome scenes of what happened to some of the Cartel members and their victims and it's not for the faint hearted but don't let that put you off what is a fascinating look into another world.


Nominated for Best Documentary at the 88th Academy Awards. 2015's 'Cartel Land', is gripping. Why, because it dares to go, somewhere, where other documentaries fail to do. It goes to the frontline of the War on Drugs, outside the protection of the corrupt government, especially with vigilante groups fighting Mexican drug cartels, showing us, how brutal and violence, life can be for some, living in South of the Border. Directed by Matthew Heineman, while the movie doesn't explore, all of the fights against the cartels in Mexico. It focus on one of the most brutal gangs with Knights Templar Cartel fighting against the citizen forces of Michoacán, a Mexican state. While, most of the movie is in Spanish in places where people barely heard of, it's still a gritty well-thought story that will cross over to the majority of English speaking-America audiences, as drug trafficking has become a major problem for both countries for many years, now. Without spoiling 'Cartel Land' too much, I have to say, while the story of Autodefensas (Self-Defender Force) was very compelling, with all the raids and gun-fights sequences. Even the clashes with the Mexican government is worth the watch on its own; but I do have to say, the other story with Tim "Nailer" Foley and the Arizona Border Recon was not. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind, having border patrols, but their story really lack any excitement. It's borderline, boring, most of the time. It made for some really bad pacing issues, when they cut away from the intense story in Mexico to the one in Arizona. I really didn't like it. For a place that supposed to be 'the Wild West', most of the time, the group just watch television, eat BBQ and go on, nature walks, dressed up as Army Rangers, harassing illegal immigrants, just looking to get away from poverty, rather than seeking out the cartel that making these people's lives, horrible. I also don't like, how cocky and badass, they think they are. They don't know, how lucky, they are, compare to the people living in Michoacán, where gunfights on the streets, and people getting their heads cut off is a common occurrence. Their quiet little town, might be near the border, but it's still far away from 'Cartel Land' as it gets. The idea that U.S. government have failed to protect the citizens of the border towns from Mexican gang violence is just absurd. It's safer, here, than it is, in Mexico, five times over. Also, for a group that says, that they're not racists. The interview speech about fences says, otherwise. Also, based on what this documentary is presenting, I don't think the leader of Arizona Border Recon is doing this, as a righteous cause, like he says it is. Instead, it felt like he was doing this, for selfish, cocky reasons, looking for scapegoat outlet for his past drug abuse and father issues. He seem insane and a psycho. Its things like this that made the Arizona Border Recon parts, cringe-worthy. Don't get me wrong, the leaders of Autodefensas were equally as unethical as the Arizona Border Recon, but they felt more necessary roughs in the edge, because, how they truly do live in a hellhole. So, to see them, order murders, breaking and entertaining, beating and torturing their capturers. It felt less, shocking, because how truly, war-like the failed nation has become. While, the movie doesn't show, much of the Autodefensas flaws at first. Overtime, they became just as dark as the criminals, they sworn to fight against. Because of this, I don't believe that Dr. José Manuel Mireles Valverde and the second in command who doesn't want, his real-life name out, Papa Pituno, aka Papa Smurf are just not the heroes, the film first portrayal them to be. Seeing Dr. Mireles cheat on his marriage, do nothing to stop the corruption, and abandoned the cause, basically show, how easily, human beings in this nation can lose their way. The lack of concern for human life is staggering and it shows. It's f-up, as much as the corruption. The twist toward the end, shows that. It's bitter & depressing. Overall: While, some of the footage can be extremely graphic that can make some viewers sick. I do have to give mad props for the filmmakers of this film has taken great personal risks to get the footage to US audiences, as it brings great insight on how violence, life is, over there. In the end, this is one powerful documentary that everybody need to see.


No spoilers. The film 'Cartel Land' is a documentary whose title is I think a little misleading. The subject matter focuses exclusively on 2 civilian militias, the Arizona Border Recon in the US and the Autodefensas in Mexico. The film is essentially a running dialog with Tim Foley and Dr. Jose Mireles the individuals who formed the militias in their respective countries recorded over a period of a year or two. The filmmaker did not question or drive the conversation in any particular direction while on camera. The intent seemingly was to provide a platform for the individuals to share their stories and pitch their case in support of organized civilian militias to oppose the activities and threat of Mexican drug cartels in the face of government complacency. The filmmaker bounces back and forth between the US and Mexico with far more time spent in the latter.

It is interesting that the purpose and tactics of the militias are very different. The mission of the Arizona Border Recon is to stop anyone crossing illegally into the US, regardless of their purpose or nationality. Where as the Autodefensas were, at least initially, organized to directly engage the Knights Templar drug cartel's campaign of mass murder and random terror.

There are no interviews with government officials from either country. All footage is of the militias either on the US border searching for persons crossing into Arizona or all over southern Mexico in the streets battling the cartels. There are no interviews with members of any cartels excluding 5 minutes at the beginning and end of the film with a group of men cooking meth at night somewhere out in the desert. There are no statistics provided on anything, the filmmaker not trying to prove or dispute anything.

My impressions based on the film.

Civilian militia is not an effective tool to combat drug cartel activities on either side of the border.

If you embarrass the Mexican government too often or defy it publicly you'll end up in prison or dead.

Building a wall across the US/Mexico border is totally and utterly absurd.

End the war on drugs, put the cartels out of the drug business. In the US put the allocated funds into substance abuse and treatment programs instead of sustaining the prison industrial complex and the mass incarceration of minorities.

A film that I would highly recommend with subject matter regarding Mexican drug cartels and US efforts to combat them is an excellent fictional thriller 'Sicario'.


I watched Sicario recently, which was an enjoyable thriller which used the war against the cartels as its backdrop, and the complexity of the 'war' as one of its plot threads. That film did impact, but Cartel Land managed to raise my heart rate and come over just as tense while also being a documentary. Instead of looking at the cartels or the military or the government, the film focuses on vigilante action on both sides of the border – albeit the majority of the time is spent to the south. The film does a good job of bringing us inside the two different vigilante groups, letting us support what they are trying to do, while also letting us see that perhaps not everyone has the most moral of motives (for instance speaking as a liberal, I think it put a human face on those in the US patrolling the border, but then hard to swallow one of them declaring that the US should be for only one race).

The film follows this path of getting close to the groups, and the majority of the meat is in the Mexican story. In telling the story it is compelling stuff because what is undeniable is that these are people who have been failed. We already know the sickening stories, and all of these are in the mind when we hear more, and see some very graphic images of those who were made examples of by the cartels. In riding with these groups the film gets some dramatic and intense moment of drama and tension, but more importantly what it gets is a picture of citizens trying to figure out things themselves in the absence of anyone else reliable – only for these efforts to fall to the same fate.

The loss of way and the corruption of good intentions is apparent, and it is dramatic to find yourself riding with this citizens group that you support, but then suddenly we appear to be picking up people with very thin reasons and basically torturing them. It shows this and other aspects of the group sliding away from their goals and ideals when they were small – and ultimately ends up with a depressing but inevitable conclusion to the film. In the meantime though the realities of this place are also shown, and we do have harrowing images and stories throughout – although to be honest the site of a young girl terrified ahead of her father's abduction tells a story in itself. The US side of the story is interesting but mostly it is linked to the Mexican story by virtue of being some steps behind tat group, and thus a cautionary tale in that regard.

A powerful film overall, and one that works best by the way it speaks of the problems with those with the power to try to address some of this, and does so by focusing on those starting out with none.


Documentary shooting techniques, let people feel more real. The causes of any social problem are very complex. Once the underlying rules are formed, it is impossible to change them without overthrowing them. The United States is like a vampire, draining the resources of the surrounding countries.


We are safe in our cities, in our homes and at our jobs for the most part. Then a film as this shows how everyday life in a Mexican village, town and city is so terrorized by cartels. No humanity and all over drugs and money. There is no doubt - evil exist and the good honest Mexican people are paying with pure terror of any day, any time, anywhere and anyone will be the cartels next victim. How sad for mankind to be so brutal to it's own kind.


If anyone was ever under any doubt that the country of Mexico is one seriously messed up place then showing them Cartel Land would be a good way to prove a point as Matthew Heineman's unflinching documentary looking at the land bordering the United States is a telling piece of documentary filmmaking that offers us a glimpse of life in the war torn streets of the drug fuelled land.

Nominated at this year's Oscar ceremony in the best documentary feature film category and co-produced by Oscar nominated filmmaker Kathryn Bigalow, Cartel Land offers a ride ranging look the world of cartels and corruption that runs rife through Mexico by giving us access to the cartels themselves, those trying to defend their country in the form of the well intentioned Autodefensa and also American citizens who patrol their towns borders as vigilantes trying their best to discourage the drug and people smuggling cartels from using their land as an easy access point to the land of freedom.

Juggling all these different components is no easy task and director Heineman does struggle at time for fluidity in his tale that can at times jar the viewer's interest. Cartel Land also finds difficulties in giving us a centralized figure to be our lead through this violent, chaotic and confusing landscape even though Mexican local and the vigilante leader of the Autodefensa José Manuel 'El Doctor' Mireles is an intriguing and multilayered persona.

Cartel Land is at its most powerful when it brings the audience into the thick of the action and chaos that inhabits the daily lives of many Mexicans caught up in the illegal activity that runs rampant around them and whether its horrific stories of cartel atrocities (the film is not for the faint of heart), real life shootouts or Breaking Bad like meth cook ups, Cartel Land isn't afraid to show it how it is and paints a horrific picture of everyday life in a country that has lost its sense of purpose.

With its roots planted in the midst of terrifying situations, Cartel Land is often powerful viewing that is hampered by a clouded sense of direction. For a no holds barred look at life on the front of line of drug cartel fuelled life however, Cartel Land will make for shocking and eye opening viewing for many who would rather forget that the land so close to America is well and truly a day to day warzone.

3 Papa Smurf's out of 5


This is a well-done documentary on both the Mexican drug cartels and our porous border to the south. The Autodefensas, led by a Clint Eastwood-esque commanding figure who is a Mexican surgeon and passionate about protecting the lives of his fellow countrymen from the savages who control Mexico's cartels, move from town to town disarming and eradicating the local drug lords who rule through intimidation, taxation, kidnapping, and murder. Although the intentions of the Autodefensas are good, they ultimately fall prey to their own peasant culture; once established in a town, the members revert to "flirting" with the local girls and start engaging in their own forms of corruption. The locals complain in open public forums that the Autodefensas are no better than the corrupt Mexican government. When Dr. Mireles, who was portrayed as a good family man early in the movie, eventually is overtaken by his newfound power and cultural machismo, it is clear that there is no guaranteed mode of rescue available to the Mexican people, at least none from within Mexico. This is the peasant culture that America is fighting to keep out, a culture that is so wildly different than ours, a culture which continually fails to embrace a state of descent, moral behavior, and erodes every aspect of their lives from within. It becomes clear, again, that an impermeable wall will stop the flow of drugs and corruption into America - if they can't sell it, the cartels will no longer exist. Kudos to the paramilitaries on the Arizona side who have dedicated their lives to protecting our border, language, and culture.


A documentary about drug trafficking set on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border.

In Mexico, a group of citizens unite to form a militia in order to combat the murderous drug cartels that terrorize their towns. In America, a group of "patriots" organize a vigilante platoon to patrol the desert and turn any illegal immigrants over to the proper authorities. In both cases, the motivation is the same: each group feels that it must take matters into its own hands since they can't rely on any system of organized legal procedures to do it for them. In Mexico, the law enforcement is corrupt and frequently working with the cartels; in the American wilderness, it's non-existent.

"Cartel Land" suffers from this split perspective after a while. It's as if the filmmakers didn't get enough footage of the American vigilante group but couldn't bring themselves to excise it altogether. As a result, it feels underdeveloped and takes away attention from what's going on in Mexico, which is gripping enough without having to share screen time. One thing the Mexican situation makes clear is that civilian militias don't work; they do for a time while everyone's intentions are noble, but sooner or later they fall prey to opportunists, in-fighting, and violence. The townspeople support the militia for a time, until the militiamen start randomly invading houses and beating up people they even slightly suspect may be involved in drug activity. This may be intended as a warning to the Americans in this film and others like them that taking the law into your own hands is the stuff of action movies, not real life. Perhaps that's why the American-set part of the film was left in even when it doesn't completely gel with the rest of the movie.

Parts of this film are fascinating if depressing, but overall the effect of the film is blunted by this lack of focus on the part of the filmmakers.

Grade: B


STAR RATING: ***** Saturday Night **** Friday Night *** Friday Morning ** Sunday Night * Monday Morning

On the United States/Mexico Border, the Knights Templar drugs cartel plies its trade with ruthless determination, and terrorizes the residents of the villages and towns where it operates. In this lawless little corner of the world, where the police, army and government are as corrupt as, and in league with, the villains, it has fallen on some local people to stand up and make a difference. Lead by a charismatic, mature local physician, the Autodefensas are an army with no legal sanction, but the support of the people who know the cause they are fighting, but gradually they are infiltrated by undesirables who set them on a path of corruption. Meanwhile, a separate group of American fighters, with uncomfortable views towards their Mexican neighbours, operate their own little army.

The 'cartel' phenomenon has been used many-a-times as a backdrop for your average action adventure, or crime thriller, but this is as close as you'll have come, probably ever, to getting up close and personal, and seeing what could be described as like a real life action film, with men in military fatigues spouting automatic weapons and prowling the outskirts of the desert in search of their prey, not to mention seeing men in car chases zooming in on those they are hunting. In this sense, Cartel Land takes the docu-drama concept and turns it on its head, delivering something quite unique. That said, on the expose front, it covers a lot of old ground that you would have already seen in any Ross Kemp/Channel 4 programme on telly, with some of the drug traffickers themselves appearing on camera only briefly, but just delivering the usual platitudes of how they live in poverty, and the real villains are those at the top.

What's never been seen before, is the frustration of those living in the midst of the violence and corruption, and their resignation to having to come together and form their own group to tackle the criminals, and eventually the disillusionment and regret when even they appear to turn into something bad. You really get the impression of a group of people who depend on each other, and have only each other to lean on in this world. But their situation is already quite well known, and they get a lot more screen time than the surprising emergence of some American protagonists, although their xenophobia and racism makes them a little tough to warm to.

By the end, it's lost it's narrative and sense of pace a little, but despite some faults, it's still an eye opening and daring work that deserves to be observed. ***