Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5. Mexico/USA, 2015. A&E IndieFilms, Our Time Projects, The Documentary Group, Whitewater Films. Cinematography by Matthew Heineman, Matt Porwoll. Produced by Matthew Heineman, Tom Yellin. Music by Jackson Greenberg, H. Scott Salinas. Film Editing by Matthew Hamachek, Matthew Heineman, Bradley J. Ross, Pax Wassermann. Academy Awards 2015. Gotham Awards 2015. Washington Film Critics Awards 2015.
In Mexico, entire communities are being destroyed by the meth trade, vast numbers of men, women and children murdered annually in the interests of continuing the profits of selling drugs to, for the most part, Americans across the border. Local citizens, fed up with what they believe is corrupted law enforcement, have formed their own militia (calling themselves “Autodefensas”) who go after the bad guys and administer vigilante justice against them. Meanwhile, in places like Arizona, American residents have taken to guarding the porous U.S.-Mexico border on their own time since they believe it is not being taken care of properly by their own law enforcement. The effectiveness of the Autodefensas, which has plenty of support from citizens, is threatened when they are pressured to become a legal entity administered by the government, something that famed leader José Manuel ‘El Doctor’ Mireles thinks a bad move given the suspicions he has about those at the top of the government. The American gunmen also contend with mixed support from a population which sees them as unfairly targeting exploited undocumented workers even though they insist that their only focus is keeping the evils of the drug cartels out of the country. The situation is basically a giant volcano of unsavoury possibilities, and somehow the very brave Matthew Heineman gets his camera into all of it: interviews with drug dealers, their victims, the Autodefensas leaders (including recording Mireles talking while he’s getting a blowjob), the U.S. shooters and everyone in between are willing to go on camera and give their side of the story. It’s thoroughly fascinating and wondrously achieved, from the hideous details to the explosive conclusion.