In this Sundance award-winning film, Director Matthew Heineman and Executive Producer Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”, “Zero Dark Thirty”) gain unprecedented, on-the-ground access to the riveting stories of two modern-day vigilante groups and their shared enemy— the murderous Mexican drug cartels.
In the Mexican state of Michoacán, Dr. Jose Mireles, a small-town physician known as "El Doctor," leads the Autodefensas, a citizen uprising against the violent Knights Templar drug cartel. Meanwhile, in Arizona's Altar Valley – a narrow, 52-mile-long desert corridor known as Cocaine Alley – Tim "Nailer" Foley, an American veteran, heads a small paramilitary group called Arizona Border Recon, whose goal is to stop Mexico’s drug wars from seeping across our border. Heineman embeds himself in the heart of darkness as Nailer, El Doctor, and the cartel each vie to bring their own brand of justice to a society where institutions have failed. The film is a chilling, visceral meditation on the breakdown of order and the blurry line between good and evil.
"Astonishing" -Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times' Critics Pick
"ONE OF THE BEST DOCUMENTARIES OF THE YEAR! Feels like Breaking Bad in real life.” - Aleksandr Gorbachev, Newsweek
"Grade: A. Remarkable." - Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly
"Delivers the narrative propulsion and satisfaction of a first-rate fiction thriller" - Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune
"Jaw dropping. Nothing short of spectacular." - David Lewis, SF Chronicle
Additional Press Coverage
“★★★★ Tremendously cinematic…it is horribly real, an urgent and alarming account of a crisis so hellishly labyrinthine it’s hard to see how anyone can escape its widening web of violence, extortion and corruption….Cartel Land demands, and commands, your attention.”
“Heineman stayed and stayed, until he was under the skin of this horror, cheek-by-jowl with its faces, recording its human emotions and savage reality. The result is raw and relentless film-making; truth-telling cinema that captures a dark kernel of Mexico’s nightmare like no other to date. It will stand among the great documentaries on Mexico, and the most powerful in years.”
The Independent - Cartel Land, film review
“★★★★ Astonishing…Matthew Heineman's documentary about the Mexican drug wars plays like a real-life version of some grim Sam Peckinpah Western in which violence and corruption have become endemic…as full of reversals and ironies as that of any fictional thriller.”
“★★★★ Cartel Land is one of the best and most intense documentaries you'll see in years…jaw-droppingly intense.”
“★★★★ This gripping Mexican drug war doc makes 'Breaking Bad' look like kids' TV…Unlike anything you’ve seen...Timely, thoughtful and supremely well-constructed, we’d be stunned if this isn’t the doc to beat on Oscar night.”
"CARTEL LAND is raw and relentless film-making; truth-telling cinema that captures a dark kernel of Mexico’s nightmare like no other to date. It will stand among the great documentaries on Mexico, and the most powerful in years."
"VICE spent the day with filmmaker Matthew Heineman during his first visit back to Mexico since the making of his unflinching documentary Cartel Land, which chronicles the plight of vigilante groups north and south of the border rising against gruesome drug cartels."
"After winning best director at Sundance following its premiere, director Kathryn Bigelow signed on as executive producer, boding well for its Oscar chances."
The Hollywood Reporter - Drug War Doc ‘Cartel Land’ Hits Home with Mexican Audiences
“The documentary had the second-highest per-screen average during its first week in theaters, a remarkable feat considering it went up against big Hollywood summer releases including Terminator: Genisys, Inside Out and Jurassic World.
Sacramento News & Review - Cartel Land
“Enthralling! a level-headed and unbelievably intimate piece of cinematic journalism"
Eugene Weekly - A Tale of Two Militias
"It’s difficult to think of a modern documentary as complex and well put together — not to mention as morally confounding — as Cartel Land"
Riverfront Times - Doc Reveals Unfiltered Truth About Life in Mexico's Cartel Wars
“A direct, unfiltered cinéma vérité account of the battles between drug dealers, the Mexican authorities and the small towns that exist in the crossfire."
Film Music Media - Cartel Land by H. Scott Salinas and Jackson Greenberg
“A chilling and textual score: evokes a sense of absolute dread at times, while still having this echo of humanity and life pulsing through it"
THE PLAYLIST/INDIEWIRE - 20 Best Documentaries Of 2015 So Far
“The drugs war south of the border, and its impact in the U.S, has been a popular one in film in recent years, from “Traffic” through “Breaking Bad” to Cannes thriller “Sicario,” but few have captured the complexities and horrors as well as Matthew Heineman’s film…The access that Heineman’s managed to get, from being caught in the middle of gang battles to a Mexican meth lab, is simply staggering: that he manages to produce such an aesthetically striking film, one that has images that wouldn’t be out of place in the Roger Deakins-shot “Sicario,” is almost ridiculous. And out of them, he creates a genuinely complex look not just at the battle against the cartels, but in the morality of fighting fire with fire, and of taking the law into your own hands.”
THE ECONOMIST - Drug resistance
“Harrowing…Emphatically in-the-moment, unpredictable...At once amazing and
"Stunning footage! a visceral document of the bi-national ramifications of the drug war—and the drug industry."
"The verite-style doc, which has earned plaudits for its access, contains a number of striking scenes, including one near the film’s end showcasing Mexican authorities' complicity that will do little to refute those who believe officials had a role in Guzman's escape."
Seattle Times - ‘Cartel Land’: a gripping look at vigilantes in Mexican drug war
“Raw and compelling!"
Minneapolis Star Tribune - Reviewed in Brief
“FOUR STARS Shot in times of serious danger, it balances idealism and violence, triggering an adrenaline high and a sense of soul-crushing hopelessness in the same instant."
The Stranger - It's Hard to Believe That Cartel Land Is a Documentary
"At times, it’s a little difficult to believe that Cartel Land is, in fact, a documentary. The cinematography is so crisp and gorgeous, and the level of access filmmaker Matthew Heineman got to narcos (and anti-narco vigilantes) in Mexico verges on the improbable."
IndieWIRE / Sydney’s Buzz - Matthew Heineman on Going Beyond the Headlines and Body Count in 'Cartel Land'
“Riveting! Profoundly humanistic and intellectually complex work"
New York Magazine - Movie Review: Cartel Land Investigates Vigilantism on the Mexican Border
"One of the year’s most important documentaries"
Chicago Tribune - Cartel Land
“Crackles with filmmaking savvy! Delivers the narrative propulsion and satisfaction of a first-rate fiction thriller."
“Cartel Land” puts viewers in the thick of the action on both sides of the border, with particularly vivid sequences in which Heineman’s camera ended up in shootouts and in a makeshift meth lab in the middle of the desert."
Christian Science Monitor - 'Cartel Land' is eye-opening and shows the shades of grey
“Eye-opening! there’s nothing like seeing some of this stuff up close and for real. "
GRADE A-. RIVETING. One of the more heart-pounding, morally complex documentaries of recent-years. Heineman puts his camera, and himself, on the front lines. The immersion is total.”
CRITICS PICK “The key to success in vérité documentaries is “access, access, access.” Which is what CARTEL LAND has in compelling amounts. The drug war in Mexico has resulted in numerous documentaries. CARTEL LAND is one of the most involving because of where its managed to go and what it’s managed to show us.”
“Devastating. One of the best documentaries i’ve seen this year. An extraordinary film. Matthew Heineman got unbelievable access. A tremendous achievement. This has shoot-outs that are scarier than anything I’ve seen in any fiction film.”
Philadelphia Inquirer - Cartel Land' documents dilemmas of drug trade
“A chilling glimpse into a world of violence and vigilantism. Bookending his film with interviews of masked meth lab workers cooking their stuff in big blue barrels, Heineman shows how an illegal billion-dollar drug trade has led to corruption, chaos, and carnage on both sides of the border."
Austin Chronicle - Cartel Land
"Heineman earns major props for his courage under fire while also capturing striking and indelible images."
Wall Street Journal - ‘Cartel Land’ Review: Blurring the Line Between Hero and Villain
“A Bleakly Persuasive view of a decades-long combat that respects no boundaries, and seems to hold no promises of surcease. Mr. Heineman and his colleagues have cast light into the darkness and, most valuably, dramatized the anguish of Mexico’s innocents in a lawless time.”
Arizona Republic - Cartel Land
"Beautifully shot film is about the hazy territory between questions and answers in the bloody drug wars in Mexico that bleed into Arizona."
San Francisco Chronicle - Jaw-dropping doc about vigilantes in Mexico
“Jaw-dropping. Courageous. Nothing short of spectacular. Heineman has made a film not to be missed!”
Washington Post - Cartel Land’ closely examines the entire drug ecosystem
“FASCINATING. Bristles with so much actual danger, from all sides.”
San Diego Reader - Cartel Land
“One amazing story!"
"The film is a stirring work of cinema verité, bereft of talking heads and think-tank experts. Instead, Heineman simply lets the story unfold — one in which the lines between right and wrong seem to be hopelessly blurred."
"Fascinating and riveting. The new film grabs you and nails you to your seat and forces you to look at the consequences of Breaking Bad like no fictional show ever could."
“Gripping! Beautifully shot! evokes the scared confusion of dusty Mexican towns and captures the dangerous desolation of the Arizona desert where you don't know who you might run into at night."
"Fascinating and riveting. The new film grabs you and nails you to your seat and forces you to look at the consequences of "Breaking Bad" like no fictional show ever could."
“Harrowing. Breathtaking. Spectacular. With the fast-paced intensity of a real world
“FIVE STARS! hard-edged, thought-provoking film! The epitome of documentary filmmaking"
Tucson Sentinel - 'Zero Dark Thirty' filmmaker exposes horrors of Mexican drug war
The Boston Globe - ‘Cartel Land’ goes inside vigilante groups
““Deserves to be seen. It puts human faces and motives on an issues we tend to think about in the abstract or as a source of horrific headlines. At times, it’s as though we’ve traveled through the looking glass and are watching BREAKING BAD from the real-world side.”
"For this episode of VICE Talks Film, Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty, The Hurt Locker)—who recently signed on as an executive producer of the film—sat down with filmmaker Matthew Heineman to discuss his fearless process in capturing this harrowing story and the ever-evolving world of the cartel's stranglehold on communities north and south of the border."
New York Times - Review: In ‘Cartel Land’ Documentary, Vigilantes Wage Drug Wars
“The director Matthew Heineman has a terrific eye. Serving as the primary cinematographer, he employs a run-and-gun style for much of the movie, using a lightweight digital camera that at times lurches so dramatically that you can visualize the body attached to it. Considering that Mr. Heineman landed in a few shootouts while making this documentary, both his camera moves and its pictorial quality are striking.”
AM New York - 'Cartel Land’ movie review
“Urgent and topical. Essential viewing!"
New York Daily News - 'Cartel Land' review: Documentary looks at militias fighting Mexican drug cartels
“Extraordinary. Director Matthew Heineman’s camera shows the cost of lawlessness and the power — and institutional powerlessness — of the people."
The Dissolve - Cartel Land
"A work of both stunning beauty and stunning intimacy. A breathlessly paced thriller!"
Village Voice - BORDER MILITIA DOC ‘CARTEL LAND’ IS AN ASTONISHMENT
“I originally thought that this was a very simple story, very quickly I realized that this story was much more complex and much more gray, that the lines between good and evil were not that clear."
INDIEWIRE’S THE PLAYLIST - 15 Films to See in July
"captures real-life gun fights on camera, is stunning to look at even though it was clearly made guerilla style on the fly"
Harper's Bazaar - THE CINEMA SOCIETY & THE ORCHARD HOST A SCREENING OF 'CARTEL LAND'
“Powerful, emotional 'This is a movie that's going to stay with you’"
Slant Magazine - Film Review: Cartel Land
"A stunning work of war reportage nestled within a creaky study of ideological purity, Cartel Land reveals the extent of the chaos and corruption infecting Mexico's drug war."
New York Times - Documentary Filmmakers Talk About Manipulation in Their Work
"One particular outbreak of gunfire that begins when Mr. Heineman is in the back of a car is as slick as anything in a big-budget Hollywood production."
"I think we all think the drug war is a big issue, and to see a film that really delves into it and to see how it affects people on both sides of the border is really fascinating. And exciting! It’s informative and a thrill ride.”
"More shocking than any fiction.”
"Cartel Land is skillfully balanced. The film is crisply photographed and tightly edited, both of which are essential to navigating so much narrative chaos and moral anarchy."
Entertainment Weekly - Cartel Land: EW review
“Grade A! Remarkable! What makes the vérité-style Cartel Land so chilling is its street-level immediacy and the filmmaker’s warts-and-all portrait of these so-called do-gooders—they’re no saints."
Paste Magazine - Cartel Land
"A complex, harrowing documentary about drug gangs’ grip on Mexico (and the Mexican-American borderlands) that doubles as a portrait of the difficulties of grassroots revolutionary movements."
The Dissolve - Cartel Land
"Cartel Land, which tellingly won both the director and cinematography prizes at Sundance earlier this year, combines both qualities to devastating effect, like real life framed as a breathlessly paced thriller."
INDIEWIRE: The Playlist - The 20 Best Documentaries Of 2015 So Far
"The drugs war south of the border, and its impact in the U.S, has been a popular one in film in recent years, from 'Traffic' through 'Breaking Bad' to Cannes thriller 'Sicario,' but few have captured the complexities and horrors as well as Matthew Heineman’s film."
Backstage - 5 Free Talkbacks With Film Visionaries
"Dubbed a “classic Western set in the 21st century,” “Cartel Land” follows the vigilantes on both sides of the Mexican-American border, and is likely to be on everyone’s mind come awards season."
Popmatters.com - “‘Cartel Land’ and the Never-Ending Story of the Drug War”
"Gorgeous! Beautifully filmed and fiercely evocative"
FLICKERING MYTH - “Sheffield Doc/Fest Review - Cartel Land”
"★ ★ ★ ★ Unfolds like a great thriller!"
Paste Magazine - In Recap: Sheffield Doc/Fest
"Border thriller Cartel Land, deserved winner of Doc/Fest’s crusading Tim Hetherington Award, is a crushing story of what you already suspected about violence and corruption in Mexico."
HOY - Cartel Land: The War On Drugs
"Intense and intimate portrait of the world of drug cartels in Michoacan."
News Blaze - Cartel Land Review: A Mexican Robin Hood Story
"High-drama documentary filmed by an intrepid filmmaker who literally put himself in the firing line to tell his tale."
"Executive-produced by Kathryn Bigelow, Matthew Heineman's "Cartel Land"examines two citizens' vigilante groups."
Washingtonian - Five Can’t-Miss Flicks at AFI-Docs
"Incredible access for a tale about vigilantism, justice, and danger."
"A compelling exploration of both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border wars."
"It is powerfully visceral and engaging: its setting evokes a classic western movie, frontier lands and charismatic cowboys, but here the characters are painfully real, as are their battles."
“This July, VICE will partner with The Orchard to promote the release of Cartel Land—a Sundance Award–winning documentary about two vigilante groups and their shared enemy, the drug cartels who wreak havoc on their towns.”
“Essential viewing! A profound, deeply disturbing, and unbelievably intense documentary tackling an issue that’s all too current.”
“A visionary masterpiece! An incredible documentation of a devastating situation that deserves the acclaim it has since achieved.”
The Playlist / IndieWIRE - Watch: Trailer For Sundance Award Winning Documentary 'Cartel Land,' Executive Produced By Kathryn Bigelow
MovieMaker - Seattle International Film Festival 2015, Part One
“Cartel Land, the fascinating, infuriating documentary by Matthew Heineman, plunges us into the Mexican drugs wars without judgment or subjective bias.”
Newsweek - The Best Documentaries of 2015 (So Far)
“Cartel Land isn’t only about the excitement of battle between good and evil, it’s also a study of how weirdly relative good and evil can be—and how sometimes they’re almost indistinguishable. At times, Cartel Land feels like Breaking Bad in real life, with characters even more complicated and controversial than Walter White.”
Entertainment Weekly - Kathryn Bigelow comes on as executive producer of Cartel Land
“This is filmmaking at its most potent, raw and visceral,” Bigelow said in a statement to EW. “Cartel Land invites you into the drug war and the unimaginable horror at its heart. A brilliant and cogent object lesson for all who want to stay informed. This is a powerful and important film of which I am proud to be a part.”
“Documentarian Matthew Heineman embeds with vigilante groups on both sides of the Mexico-U.S. border to show how civilians have taken it upon themselves to fight drug cartels where institutions have failed, amidst terrible violence and police corruption.”
Creative Planet Network - Capturing Conflict and Conflicting Perspectives
“Filmmaker Matthew Heineman didn’t set out to put himself in the middle of a standoff between the Mexican military and a heavily armed vigilante group. Nor did he intend to spend any time crouched inside a car taking fire from members of a drug cartel. But his work on the feature documentary Cartel Land took him into both of those situations—and more.”
Rolling Stone - Alt-Summer Movie Preview 2015: Docs, 'Dope' and Demented Flicks
“Matthew Heineman's documentary starts out as a chronicle of everyday people taking on a national scourge; it ends up asking viewers to decide whether vigilantism produces folk heroes or merely a different kind of predator, and reminding us that to live outside the law, you must be honest.”
“The festival will open with a fundraising benefit night featuring Matthew Heineman's CARTEL LAND.”
Eye For Film - Review: Cartel Land
“One person's armed vigilante is another person's guardian angel and the border between these two ideas is wafer thin and easily crossed as Matthew Heineman's beautifully shot and probing documentary shows.”
IndieWIRE - The Ten Must See Documentaries
“A stark and immersive look at life in the battlefield in the war on drugs.”
“Award-winning director Matthew Heineman joins to talk about his new documentary.”
“I found myself in really dicey situations; shoot-outs, meth labs, torture cells.”
Time Magazine - Watch a Clip From Modern Day Vigilante Documentary Cartel Land
“The story the film tells isn't the simple heroes-and-villians take he originally set out to make. The more time he spent on the border, the more once-simple contrasts devolved into shades of gray.”
“Cartel Land paints a portrait of vigilantism that is both galvanizing and deeply troubling.”
"EXPLOSIVE. The director’s access has ensured that we get scenes of startling, real-life violence and hair-raising suspense. Heineman wants to thrill us and shock us into awareness. In that, he succeeds marvelously.”
AM New York - Documentaries To See At The Tribeca Film Festival
“A must see! A sprawling look at the life on the front lines of the war against drug cartels in Mexico”
The Dissolve - Crossing Borders At True/False 2015
“Ride-along documentaries don't get any more dangerous than Matthew Heineman's Cartel Land, a chilling cross-border exploration of vigilantes trying to fight a drug war their government can't win on their own”
Tribeca Film Festival - Here Are The Films In The 2015 Festival Spotlight Section
The Hollywood Reporter - Frightening Doc On Arizona's Lack of Border Control
“Spellbinding! Heineman vaults us into a true heart of darkness.”
The Hollywood Reporter - Frightening Doc On Arizona's Lack of Border Control
“Spellbinding! Captures the mayhem and malice in the lands ravaged by the cartels.”
“A tense, cinematically-styled verite documentary about the Mexican drug wars, Matthew Heineman's Cartel Land was one of the big winners at Sundance this year, nabbing both the Directing and Cinematography Awards.”
Paste Magazine - The 10 Best Films of Sundance 2015
“Cartel Land is staggering, stunning. The best documentary I’ve seen in a very long time.”
Village Voice - The Fifteen Sundance 2015 Films You Need to Know
"Heart attack inducing."
"Riveting...The film plays more like a drama than a non-fiction film."
“It's reasonable to feel assured that at least one of Sundance's docs will end up an Oscar nominee, if not two, three, four or all five...we'd give "Going Clear," "Best of Enemies," "The Wolfpack" and "Cartel Land" the very early upper hand."
"Plays like staged battles seen in modern war movies such as The Hurt Locker or American Sniper."
Vulture - The 18 Best Films From Sundance 2015
"Access, access, access is the driving force in Matthew Heineman's astonishing documentary."
Twitch Film - Sundance 2015 Review: 'Cartel Land' a Moral Quagmire
"An astonishing journalistic achievement, the film brilliantly follows the trajectory of the story down a path that's as shocking as it is nihilistic. With sequences right out of a war film...This is a film that's both timely and timeless, an examination of what appears to be an unassailable cycle of awfulness."
Huffington Post - Sundance So Far
"Heineman directs the movie so that it almost doesn't feel like a documentary, largely thanks its beautiful cinematography."
Collider - Cartel Land Review
"Brilliant, incredible, dark, and all-too-current...the movie feels almost like an action-thriller...with the force of a punch right in the heart...a tight, dark, and powerful narrative that's almost too dramatic to be true."
"A chilling, heart-pounding, hell-ride into the front lines of battle… Aesthetically, it is a vibrant, electrifying work, with stunning visuals and a sure hand…Heineman, in placing himself in such danger, has managed to create a remarkable and distinctive film that takes on a difficult issue that cannot be so conveniently remedied or ignored."
Screen Daily - 'Cartel Land'
"Deftly edited, and filmed with a feel for the deadly volatility of drug violence."
Whatnottodoc.com - 2015 Sundance Docs in Focus: CARTEL LAND
"Heineman is on the front lines to chronicle a war of fascinating, shifting morality and provocative developments which more than once upend the audience's expectations, making this far more than a standard David vs Goliath story."
Wall Street Journal - 2015 Sundance Film Festival Unveils Films in Competition
"The work was very powerful this year, with new levels of boldness and intensity coming from the independent film world. You feel it." -- John Cooper
Los Angeles Times - Sundance: Slate
"The U.S documentary competition will showcase Matthew Heineman's "Cartel Land," a story about powerful drug cartels set on both sides of the U.S-Mexican border."