The diabolical genius of Michael Moore’s Roger & Me is that Moore, casting himself as an affable working-class slob, would likely never meet Roger Smith, the General Motors CEO he spends the documentary pursuing. In fact, if Smith had actually conceded to an interview, it would have undermined the film’s assertion that car-company executives like him are inaccessible, unfeeling plutocrats who shut down factories and devastate once-thriving communities. But Moore’s mission, however quixotic and disingenuous, gives Roger & Me a sturdy narrative backbone, a throughline for scattered observations about the industry’s past and present, tours through his devastated hometown, and ironic music montages. Morgan Spurlock took this approach to ever-more-ridiculous extremes with 2008’s Where In The World Is Osama Bin Laden?, which finds him heading toward the Tora Bora mountain range in Afghanistan, picking up the U.S. government’s failed search for the architect of 9/11. Spurlock is lucky he had no chance of finding bin Laden.
For Drug Lord: The Legend Of Shorty, director Angus MacQueen and his co-director/translator Guillermo Galdos embark on a gimmicky quest for someone between Roger Smith and Osama bin Laden on the achievability scale—but a lot more dangerous. Their target: El Chapo Guzmán, the billionaire head of the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico, the country’s top drug kingpin and the elusive target of a manhunt since he escaped from a maximum-security prison in early 2001. MacQueen and Galdos follow Guzmán’s trail through associates of associates of associates, starting in the border city of Tijuana and eventually winding up in Guzmán’s home turf in the mountains outside Caliacán, a city suffused with Sinoloa drug money. There are indicators that Guzmán—or at least Guzmán’s people—are aware of the filmmakers, and maybe perceive them as a threat, but the potential for grievous bodily harm vastly outweighs the possibility that MacQueen and Galdos might score an interview.
The Roger & Me approach lends structure and a certain amount of tension to Drug Lord, but the film struggles to clarify the scope and logistics of Guzmán’s operation, which a DEA agent likens to corporate giants like WalMart. It also fails to grasp the systemic corruption that let Guzmán turn a maximum-security prison into a cushy base of operations, from which he could escape by rolling away in a laundry bin. Granted, detailing Guzmán’s multi-tentacled business and the conspicuous failures of law enforcement is a big job for a 90-minute documentary, but Drug Lord doesn’t have the pulp energy of Billy Corben’s Cocaine Cowboys, the sophisticated byplay between Sinaloa and the U.S. in Narco Cultura, or the simple, clean storytelling of the 30 For 30 documentary The Two Escobars, just to name a few similar projects. It’s not surprising that Guzmán himself proves elusive, and it’s unlikely that MacQueen and Galdos went into the project expecting this incredible scoop to materialize. But save for the vague aura of danger surrounding Guzmán—which palpably engulfs the filmmakers as they get deeper into the cartel’s “Golden Triangle”—Drug Lord has trouble forming a coherent point of view. It could use someone good at organization, an El Chapo Guzmán-type perhaps.