‘Narco Cultura’ offers zero hope about the War on Drugs

Juarez Narcos show off their wares in Shaul Schwarz’s grim documentary "Narco Cultura." Credit: Cinedigm
Juarez Narcos show off their wares in Shaul Schwarz’s grim documentary “Narco Cultura.”
Credit: Cinedigm

‘Narco Cultura’
Director: Shaul Schwarz
Genre: Documentary
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

In the 1990s, gangsta rappers were taken to task for what was seen as a glorification of violence. In reality, many of the musicians were much more ambivalent, even negative, about their subject matter, adopting personas to reveal the grim realities of life on the street. “Narcoculture” is a whole other beast. A massive industry throughout Mexico and the American Southwest, its singers unambiguously — and thoughtlessly — glorify Mexican cartel members as badass gangsters. Where some gangster rappers actually came from the street, these musicians do it from a safe remove.

“Narco Culture,” a visually stunning and calmly gutting documentary, hops back and forth between musicians and the life they only think they know. In Los Angeles, one Edgar Quintero enjoys a profitable life performing a genre too profitable to be successfully outlawed. Quintero takes bazookas on stage and brandishes gun imagery on his clothes while singing of killing everybody.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the border rages a brutal drug war that, between 2006 and 2012, has killed 60,000 people, with no sign of abating. The border town of Juarez has seen the brunt of the damage. (El Paso, which faces it, is by contrast the safest city in America.) Officers — or the few who haven’t been gorily dispatched — no longer even try to police it; they just drive to pick up headless bodies or heads with notes attached. Few murders go investigated.

Director Shaul Schwarz forcefully — perhaps too forcefully, or at least repetitively — makes the distinction between Quintero’s glamorized take on cartel life and the Boschian hellscape it actually causes. Quintero isn’t completely uninvolved: He is often commissioned by cartel members for new songs, to which they then rock out. When he decides his work could use more grit, Quintero obliviously talks of taking a vacation down there for research, leading to him hanging with cold-blooded killers. The respect is mutual.

Schwarz lets the juxtaposition between the two sides do most of the editorializing, which is enough. He keeps hanging with Quintero, as though waiting for him to have an epiphany, or to simply test the theory that he’s really and truly thick. It’s a better piece of reportage when on the south side of the border, where Schwarz keeps digging deeper and deeper into the drug war, which not only has no end in sight but is in fact getting worse. A lot of documentaries are hopeless, but here — with a purely observational and clinical approach — the despair and lack of optimism becomes a kind of sick joke.


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Florida man charged with murdering son to play…

A Florida man annoyed that his 16-month-old crying son was preventing him from playing video games suffocated the toddler, police said on Friday.

International

Powerful 7.2 magnitude earthquake rattles Mexico

A powerful earthquake struck Mexico Friday, shaking buildings and sending people running into the street, although there were no reports of major damage.

News

OMG! Exercise can make skin (and butt) look…

A moderate exercise regime can turn back time and actually reverse the skin's aging process, according to new research. The study showed that a minimum…

International

Jews in eastern Ukraine ordered to register, Kerry…

Secretary of State John Kerry condemned reports that Jews in eastern Ukraine had been ordered to register with the authorities "or suffer the consequences."

Entertainment

Whoopi Goldberg makes her debut as marijuana columnist

"It helps my head stop hurting, and with glaucoma your eyes ache, and she takes the ache out. It's wonderful," she said.

The Word

Kate Middleton made fun of Prince William's bald…

Kate Middleton and Prince William are in Sydney, Australia, right now, and it sounds like that brash Aussie sense of humor might be rubbing off.

The Word

Is Tom Cruise dating Laura Prepon?

"Mission: Impossible" star Cruise is said to be dating Laura Prepon, star of "Orange is the New Black."

Television

'Scandal' recap: Season 3, Episode 18, 'The Price…

Sally is Jesus, Olivia caused global warming, and Mellie's still drunk. Let's recap the Scandal finale. A church full of Washington insiders is about to…

NBA

Carmelo Anthony agonizing over Knicks future as season…

There’s still the cloud hanging over the franchise’s head as to the pending free-agent status of All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony.

NFL

Jets host players with eye toward NFL Draft

The Jets hosted a number of NFL Draft hopefuls for workouts on Thursday, with an eye toward some under-the-radar players.

NFL

Chris Johnson: I wanted to go to 'a…

Now that Chris Johnson is a Jet, the team has to figure out if one of the most explosive players in the NFL over the last half decade has anything…

NHL

Rangers' speed versus Flyers' size makes interesting playoff…

Among the myriad aspects that will make this Metropolitan Division semifinal series fascinating will be the battle between the Rangers' speed and the Flyers' size,…

Tech

VIDEO: 'Vein-scanning' may become the future of paying

Designed to make transactions quicker and easier, the technology works by scanning the unique vein patterns in each person's palm.

Tech

#FollowFriday: 10 of the smartest Twitter accounts

Spending lots of time on Twitter? You might as well learn something. Here are some of the smartest accounts to follow.

Style

Light-up nail art syncs with phone

This Japanese technology syncs light-up nail art with your phone.

Wellbeing

Why is dance cardio taking off in NYC?

Instructors at some of the city's hottest classes explain why.