It's penetrating iris takes in a veritable cornucopia of vigilante activity - from the night-vision sentry duty of self-proclaimed patriots in the southern United States to the Mexican citizens revolting against their criminal oppressors. Heineman sticks perilously close to the action on both counts, getting his narrative hooks into the audience. He uses some night operations with the border patrol to slowly build tension before exploding into a electrifying and terrifying gunfight on the streets of a cartel-dominated town in Mexico. It's like a handheld sequence from a modern action movie set-piece and has the exact heart-pounding effect as such scenes are intended to. The cinematography is spectacular throughout, Heineman and co-cameraman Matt Porwoll blending mythic silhouettes against glorious sunsets with the rough and ready reality.
And that is what imbues their footage with such incredible energy; Cartel Land may appear to be a neo-Western but it is non-fiction and the danger is undeniably real. This is at its most evident when one of the film's two focal points - Dr. Jose Manuel Mireles - is almost killed in a mysterious accident. Mireles is the enigmatic centre of the Autodefensas movement, a physician by day and a moustachioed sheriff decked in a cowboy hat in his spare time. He's contrasted against the American Tim Foley, the militarised head of what the Southern Poverty Law Centre consider an extremist group. But both man lead in what they feel is an absence of government action, and Heineman's intimate examination lays bare the moral maze of vigilanteism. It's a vérité thriller that asks difficult questions even as it refuses to proffer easy answers.
The East End Film Festival runs from 1-12 July. Programme, ticketing details and more can be viewed at eastendfilmfestival.com. For more of our coverage, follow this link.
Ben Nicholson | @BRNicholson