Cartel Land Is An Eye-Opening Look Into The Complex World Of Drug Trafficking.

Black and white doesn't exist when it comes to morality. It's just shades of grey.

The Harvey Dent character in The Dark Knight actually put it fairly eloquently: “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

Cartel Land seems to understand this truth well. This gripping and tense documentary follows two militia groups — one from Arizona and one from Michoacan, Mexico — that are fed up with the violence from Mexican drug cartels and have decided to take matters into their own hands.

As a film, it's an at-once uplifting and downright depressing watch.

The movie starts with a group of men beginning to cook meth and being interviewed about their living. It's a little strange to see how they're shown to be rather sympathetic people here. They kind of are; they're just trying to rise through poverty and the socioeconomic statuses into which they were born. But, again, their presentation in this setting is meant to show a duality. Later on in the movie, you hear of the cartel's reign of terror with beheadings and its mass executions of innocent men, women and children. Suddenly, you realize how easy it is for money and status to corrupt and lead to violence.

It goes both ways, too. Take the all-but-stated-racist border militia group operating out of Arizona lead by Tim Foley, which feels as if it's the group's duty to patrol and “protect” the border of these smugglers. Representing one side of a bigger issue, and with anger stemming comes from their own government's lack of involvement, these people — even above the rather racist undertones of their goals — actually have a lot in common with the last group that the film focuses on, the Autodefensas, at least in language.

That group is another milita group, one that goes from town to town to get rid of the cartel members who are using their own brand of justice. After starting out as small handful of vigilantes, that group morphs into a giant movement that gets the attention of the federal government and actually becomes fairly influential.

This whole movie is a look into ideals, corruption and how opposing forces are much more similar than they appear. The filmmakers accomplish this by showing the Autodefensas' rise as a political force to be reckoned with. While they started out as idealists, it seems it was only a matter of time before the militia would eventually become as corrupt as the forces it's fighting.

That's compelling stuff, but so too is this: Cartel Land features some of the most intense documentary footage shown in recent history. Cartel murders are show, including beheadings. Even more intense is the fact that the camera crew just so happened to also catch some unexpected shootings, too.

The entire situation is clearly quite brutal, terrifying and tragic — especially towards the end of the movie when the identity of the organization supplying the Autodefensas' guns is revealed.

Things get pretty murky, I'll say that.

Of course, so is the whole issue. And this movie, edited to fit a very specific fiction-esque narrative, presents that quite well.

It's a gripping and excellent documentary that shows the difficult scenarios people find themselves in thanks to the drug smuggling problem. One can't help but feel a little cynical about it all — even with all these people, on all these difference sides of the issue, trying to make a difference.

Grade: B+.

An earlier version of this review originally appeared atWDYMS.com.

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