Director Matthew Heineman’s embedded examination of impassioned citizens fighting Mexican drug cartels is surrounded by moral quicksand. ‘Cartel Land’ is also packed with more revelations and plot twists than most Hollywood dramas. Boots-on-the-ground guerilla filmmaking has never looked better or posed more thought-provoking questions.
As with any year, some people have begun arguing that 2013 was a bad year for film, because of the expected glut of effects-heavy blockbusters that litter the multiplexes each summer, or because there was a lack of auteur-driven storytelling for the majority of the year. Though it is indeed frustrating that studios hold their …
One of the most shocking moments of the new documentary Narco Cultura comes near the end, as one of the musicians who profits from the most heinous and violent acts committed by Mexican drug cartels deliberately misquotes a memorable line from Brian de Palma’s Scarface: “First you get the money, then you get the power, then you get the bitches.”
The name of Hong Kong director Johnnie To resonates strongly with fans of hard edged gangster films and cop stories. For years already he has delivered time and time again with some of the most vivid, gritty and viscerally charged films which populate the genre. His more recent output has occasionally diverged from the action dramas he built his name on, mainly with 2008’s cape flick Sparrow and 2011’s Don’t Go Breaking my Heart with which he branched out into romantic comedy.
Drug War begins on an impromptu note: a man foaming at the mouth and barely in control of his vehicle thunderously crashes into a local restaurant after fleeing from a drug house. This is followed by a highway sting where a few low level drug traffickers are caught; one man exchanges furious obscenities with his police captor, which are immediately closed off with a response of “I didn’t betray you; I busted you.” Drug War succeeds in never backing off this initial thrust and heightened interplay. The story of cops and criminals predates most, but master director Johnnie To’s latest plays out like an innovative trailblazer and modern spectacle all at once.