Cartel Land

Rather than delve into the origins of Mexico’s cartel-related violence, this documentary treats the ongoing crisis as a given and focuses on vigilante groups trying to combat it. Director Matthew Heineman looks at the Grupos de Autodefensa Comunitaria, civilian militias that had successfully ousted cartels from a couple dozen Michoacán towns by 2013, only to be infiltrated by cartel members and corrupt government officials the following year. This rise-and-fall story is intercut with a study of white militias on the U.S. side of the Arizona border; compared to the grupos, these American outfits seem disorganized and starved for popular support. 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.