Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Kingdom of Shadows: How the Drug War was Lost
share a very long and largely unenforced border with Mexico. This is a
particularly disturbing fact to keep in mind while watching the frequent
discovery of mass graves throughout our neighbor to the south. The war on drugs
will be blamed, but it is pretty clear that war is over in Mexico and the
cartels won. Two former combatants and a courageous nun offer their perspectives
on the current state of border anarchy in Bernardo Ruiz’s Kingdom of Shadows (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.
Consuelo Morales is a woman of great faith and humility, who tirelessly consoles
families of the “disappeared” and constantly prods government officials on
their behalf. She is the film’s unambiguous moral center, in part because her
job is so hard. Frankly, the police in narco hotspots like Monterey are so
corrupt, they are often seen as wholly owned subsidiaries of the cartels. Most
of the disappearances are probably the work of the cartels, but some wholesale
abductions have been traced back to various police forces, which makes
absolutely no tactical sense, unless they were trying to get the populace to
hate the cops even more, which is a distinct possibility.
border patrol officer and undercover agent turned Homeland Security official Oscar
Hagelsieb also has a hard job. The narco-terror unfolding in Monterey and
spilling over into Texas border towns like Socorro, Texas falls under his
jurisdiction. He intercepted a lot of drugs and busted a lot of sinister
characters during his undercover days. Ironically, that is one reason he keeps
such a high profile now, in the hopes that his past associates will not seek to
martyr such a prominent government spokesperson.
Henry Ford, Jr. was one of the traffickers Hagelsieb was trying to put away.
Someone did indeed bust him and just in the nick of time. If he had been
pinched any later, mandatory minimums would have applied. Ford was old school.
He dealt with the relatively stable Amado Carrillo. According to Ford, his
death left a vacuum that would be filled by a younger generation of sociopaths,
an interpretation of history that seems to fit the facts pretty well.
fact that Kingdom was produced by the
highly partisan Participant Media does not inspire confidence, but Ruiz’s
brutally honest Reportero earns his
follow-up a fair hearing. Fortunately, it is also messily honest, to the point
of losing control of its message. Frankly, the Trump campaign ought to bus
primary voters to screenings, because it entirely vindicates his border
security platform. Sure, there are some tacked-on arguments regarding mandatory
drug minimums, but they are overwhelmed and undercut by the images of grisly carnage.
Kingdom (and Reportero before it) gives viewers the impression Mexico is
practically a failed state. It is a scary thought, but it certainly makes the
paramilitary vigilantes seen in Matthew Heineman’s Cartel Land look reasonable. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of
answers in Kingdom, besides
chastising America for the drug consumption that fuels the drug violence. That
is fair enough, but it is worth remembering the media contempt that greeted
Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign. Evidently, that is now the best strategy
Some of its viewpoints are more insightful than
others, but there is still plenty of revealing (and disturbing) stuff in Kingdom. It is uneven, but like Reportero, it is a pretty gutsy film.
Recommended for its boots-on-the-ground documentary reporting, Kingdom of Shadows opens this Friday
(11/20) in New York, at the Cinema Village.
Labels: Documentary, Mexican drug cartels