- Movie Rating -

The Last Narc (2020)

| August 2, 2020

I suppose I should be embarrassed to admit that, being a naïve, well-fed Caucasian American, my vantage point on the world comes through fiction films and the images that the news media chooses to show me.  For most people like me, our view of the Mexican Drug Cartels comes through Hollywood’s filter in hyper-active thrillers like Sicario and The Last Stand and whatever hot air balloon Robert Rodriguez is blowing up this year.

That, in a sense, is why I gravitate toward documentaries like Amazon Prime’s four-part series The Last Narc, which is about as close to the reality of the drug cartels as I am ever likely to get, but this is much more than just another portrait of a savage industry.  The film uses a great many witnesses to tell the story of the drug cartels but the central focus is on the 1985 kidnapping, torture and murder of undercover DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena by the Guadalajara Cartel that he was charged with investigating. 

A great many former agents tell their stories, most of whom are slipping quietly into old age.  Their faces are lined and one can see in their eyes the stress, pain and regret of the brutality that they witnessed during their careers.  You can see that is has scarred their very souls.

Most notable is Hector Berrellez, the supervisor of the inquiry into Kiki Camarena’s murder and how the DEA was not only involved but not exactly blameless.  Seated in an empty, dimly-lit bar – the great symbolic temple of sin and regret – he tells his story of how he was brought up in dire poverty by a mother who worked as a tarot card reader and was encouraged to get into law enforcement after his own brother became a heroine addict before hitting puberty.

Berrellez’s experience has obviously left deep scars but also has hardened him into a man who lets us know that he doesn’t exaggerate.  If the Hollywood model of telling Hector’s story was to do so with colorful lights and special effects, Hector reminds us that the life of an undercover agent investigating the cartels is far from fictional fantasy.  He tells stories of random violence, of vicious slayings, of having to kill a dealer when a deal goes bad.  His tale makes us admire his courage, but also what a thin line he walked even taking the job.

Berrellez’s testimony about Kiki’s tragic circumstances is interspersed with personal accounts by his widow Mika and his colleagues who describe Kiki as a hard-driven and sometimes foolhardy man who was dedicated to his assignment to a fault.  His fatal efforts were certainly not in vain.  Before he was murdered, he and pilot Alfredo Zavala, had crippled the Guadalajara cartel when they discovered the Rancho Búfalo, a billion-dollar marijuana field in Chihuahua, Mexico which were known and supported by local officials.  When the fields were discovered, they were burned by soldiers, causing such damage to the cartel that the cartel’s founder Felix Gallardo ordered Kiki’s murder.  The story goes that he was nabbed by cartel enforcers on February 7, 1985 as he was leaving his office to meet Mike for lunch and was subsequently tortured and murdered.

The details are what make The Last Narc compelling.  The eyewitness testimony, shot much of the time in close-up, reveals that the wounds are still fresh, not only from Mika but also from the men who worked undercover for the cartel and saw its brutal tactics first-hand.  You get a sense of living witnesses to their inhumanity, all in the name of the all-mighty dollar.

Yet, if that were all there was, it wouldn’t work as well.  What starts as a compelling murder mystery fit for Cold Case Files, expands to uncover a vast and sprawling conspiracy between the United States government, the Mexican government and the CIA-created Mexican Intelligence agency to fight a war that was too vast and loaded with so many billions of dollars that it could never be won.  Under the story of Kiki is the sad truth that this war is too overloaded with personal interests and too underpopulated by people like Kiki Camarena to ever reach any sort of positive conclusion.

Now streaming on Amazon Prime

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2020) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized