Director and photo: Matthew Heineman
Already in his projections, the Oscar-nominated documentary shows Cartel Land that director Matthew Heineman has had a very unique access to his material. Here we meet a group of members of a Mexican drug cartel, who openly (albeit masked) talk about and showcase their work to produce methamphetamine to be smuggled across the US border.
With this sequence, the tone is set effectively for the rest of the film, which, admittedly, is about two people working on each side of the border against these cartels and their business: American Tim "Nailer" Foley and Mexican José Manuel "El Doctor" Mireles, both characters that could have been sourced straight out of an American genre movie.
Volunteers. "Nailer" Foley is a self-proclaimed vigilant, which is working to build a group of volunteers to patrol the Arizona border – heavily armed, of course – to keep drug smugglers out of the country. The weather-beaten shark has obviously been out some desert nights before, and tells of a childhood of mental and physical abuse, as well as a past of its own substance abuse. And when he constantly mentions the smugglers with intense disdain as "those motherfuckers", it's quickly made to suspect that his bitter fight against drug traffic may actually be an outlet for something quite different.
"El Doctor" Mireles bears his nickname because he is a doctor, a profession he also practices – at least in the beginning of the film. To the same extent, however, he dedicates himself to leading the civil protection group Autodefensas, which – at least as heavily armed as its American counterpart – fights the drug cartels from the Mexican side of the border. A very dangerous and vulnerable position, which has given him a certain hero status among. . .