Film

Drug Lord: The Legend of Shorty Shares a Compelling Look at a Mexican Cartel

by

Jesus Christ was the only muthafucka who couldn’t be bought, and they crucified him,” says one of the interview subjects in Angus Macqueen and Guillermo Galdos’s compelling but ultimately unfulfilling documentary on Mexican drug cartel legend Joaquín “Shorty” Guzmán.

The interviewee’s succinct blend of reverence and blasphemy speaks to the depths of official criminality in Mexico, underscoring what journalist Anabel Hernández terms “a stew of corruption” that has no bottom. For over 30 years, Guzmán ran a global drug empire that generated hundreds of millions of dollars.

Much of the violence that now racks Mexico has roots in his bloody rise to power — a rise that many in the film (especially the kickass Hernández) say was aided and abetted by government and law enforcement figures in both the U.S. and Mexico. Macqueen and Galdos structure the film around their efforts to garner an interview with Shorty, a quest that has them dart across both the U.S. and Mexico, interviewing dozens of people (cartel figures, lawyers, DEA spokesmen) along the way and piecing together Shorty’s blood-splattered narrative. (His mom, of course, thinks he’s a misunderstood good guy.)

Energetically edited, the film makes smart use of crime scene photos, old Zorro film clips, and narcocorridos – the popular folk-style ballads that glamorize drug lords. The film’s abrupt ending leaves many crucial questions unanswered, but that weakness doesn’t detract from its overall power. Hernández’s telling of the story of the young woman brought to the imprisoned Shorty to be his pass-around sex slave is especially haunting, crystallizing as it does the human cost of the drug trade in a single ill-fated body.