Friday, November 20, 2015

Mexico and drugs--again--in Bernardo Ruiz's rather stock doc, KINGDOM OF SHADOWS

Anyone who has followed the seemingly eternal tale of this country's "war on drugs," and the connections provided by our own government (remember Iran-Contra?), drug runners, and dirty politicians and dirty police on both sides of the border will, I suspect, find little new or particularly riveting about the documentary that opened today, KINGDOM OF SHADOWS, written and directed by Bernardo Ruiz. This year, especially, there have a number of documen-taries and narrative films on the subject, with plenty more having reached us in past years.

Having seen many of these recent movies myself, I wasn't certain what to expect from Kingdom of Shadows, save for some new ideas, new information, and maybe other ways to look at the entire situation, in which our neighbor to the south, the forever drug-and-violence-addled Mexico, is front and center once again. Instead what I got was mostly more of the same, without any of it adding to the information I either already knew or could easily figure out. Filmmaker Ruiz, shown at left, has cobbled together stories from three participants: an old-time drug dealer (now, it seems, retired), a younger ex-dealer who becomes an undercover drug enforcement agent for the USA, and a woman whose job it is to find links to the "disappeared," folk of all ages and both sexes who have been lost and most likely murdered due to their involvement in the drug trade or simply to their being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Don Henry Ford, Jr. (above), tells us what it was like in times past ("Back in the day, nobody carried a gun"), while Oscar Hagelsieb (below) tells his story, which includes how the violence so epidemic today began to spread from the narco-involved to those who were not. We hear about corrupt police (surprise!) and maybe the most interesting tidbit: How the Mexican community longs for the days when there was just one strong drug cartel in charge of it all. We also learn how the new(er) police force, the Fuerza Civil, is seen as a more trustworthy alternative. Really? OK.

The third wheel is Sister Consuelo Morales, below, who appears to have given up her life to tend to the needs of the families of those "disappeared." Her story (and the little we learn of those she tries to help) proves the saddest. But because none of these three stories connect in any way other than being obviously drug-related, there is little "build" to the movie. We got more involved in those "disappeared" in that very good Mexican soap opera of a few years back, Casi Divas.

Also interviewed is a member of Human Rights Watch, and we see, particularly at the finale, face after face of the grieving family members of those who've gone missing. Mexico seems to me even more troubled and deeper in despair than at anytime I can recall. Or maybe it's just that the Internet has brought down so many barriers that used to disguise how countries routinely lie about everything.

A perfectly acceptable, entry-level look at the "drug war" and its consequences, Kingdom of Shadows -- from Participant Media and running just 74 minutes -- opened in theaters today, as well as being available via VOD.

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