Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
Pop culture is obsessed with the mechanics of drug production. Both "Escobar" by Andrea Di Stefano and "Savages" directed by Oliver Stone were two scarifying films about drug gangs, and TV's "Breaking Bad" made history for its existential antics.
"Cartel Land" by director Matthew Heineman is a punchy and acidic look at Knights Templar, a meth cartel along the Arizona border where there are no easy answers.
The violence from the Templar has brought Tim Foley into action. He's part of Arizona Recon, a group committed to root out drug workers and bring them to some karmic justice via guns and brute force. To some Foley is an amoral vigilante, but to others he is a Batman of the desert, locating drugs and their makers and hauling them in, dead or alive.
His life is a waiting game of cat and mouse, endless hours of stillness. It is thankless work in a dusty and cramped space, while some journalists malign is efforts, labeling him as reactionary with anti-government leanings.
Then there is Dr. Mireles, a gentle doctor by day and a paramilitary anti drug leader during odd hours. Gray and soft spoken with a billowy mustache, he has the aura of the writer Ambrose Bierce. His goal is to persuade with words as well as bullets and to take back Tepalcatepec as well as other locations along the Michoacan coast. He has had several family members murdered by the Knights Templar.
He never sleeps.
Second in command is Papa Smurf, a stocky ball of a man who likes to rule with his rifle. Although the Autodefensas as they are called do liberate neighborhoods from crime, residents are understandably filled with fear and anxiety, not liking the violence and expecting retaliation.
Indeed, the Templar appear to have the upper hand. Each night they stir a witchy brew of stupefying narcotics for all to consume. Powder hangs in the night air creating an wraith of toxic dust.
The Autodefensas race through the streets and haul people from their dwellings, sometimes right from the sidewalk without reason or cause. They browbeat with guns and sexual taunts and punches those who look suspicious . Some blatantly break laws, invading homes at random and taking what they want, while fetishizing guns and blood.
It becomes a push-pull game with residents caught in a nervous noose.
It is Dr. Mireles alone who comes off as most sincere, although outside of his work he sneakily has numerous affairs under the gaze of his steady wife. Mireles is passionate and charismatic, clearly caring about his people.
Papa Smurf has ties to the cartel with a new rifle funded by a nightshade government.
Disquieting it is though to see the doctor in the right, then abruptly turn a corner to adultery and betray his wife.
Mireles suffered partial paralysis due to an airplane accident and some say the Templar are to blame.
Meanwhile, the Autodefensas have sensual and riotous parties, filled with salsa dancing and the machismo display of shiny pearl handled weaponry.
The flow of this documentary is brisk and dizzying with plenty of gut-wrenching episodes, not least of them featuring a paramilitary officer sadistically pistol whipping a man, a presumed Templar, accompanied by his screaming daughter.
Tim Foley lies in wait along the rocks, his face becoming indistinguishable from the red clay beneath him. His drive is cathartic growing like a cactus and bristling from the anger of a father.
Despite his skill and homespun technology, though, it does appear that the Knights Templar still maintain an advantage. For within their toxic cauldron, a menacing mist rises, a swirl of seductive poison. The infinite shapes of destruction that flicker in "Cartel Land" are legion and not for innocent eyes.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org