Those who have protested against how Sicario portrayed Mexico as overrun with brutally violent drug cartels, corrupt law enforcement, and distrusted politicians may not be any happier with Kingdom of Shadows.

Bernardo Ruiz’s documentary includes all those familiar elements through news montages and sound bites, as well as coverage of the missing and presumed murdered. (Juarez has been the subject of several features, including Backyard.) His team’s camera is most effective in recording tragic faces. His first is of a determined nun, Sister Consuelo Morales, in the city of Monterrey. She is so charismatic and committed to the families of the thousands of missing victims that her strong faith convinces the police to finally try to help by chipping away at officers’ impunity. (Public demands to search for 43 missing college students last year in another state led investigators to find many other cartel mass murder sites.)

Her rallying the relatives to hold up placards with individual photos in demonstrations is reminiscent of the tactics of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who goaded the government of Argentina to focus on the missing back in the 1980s. A masked cartel functionary’s matter-of-fact description of how bodies are disposed is already eerily like Patricio Guzmán’s chilling account of Chilean government techniques in The Pearl Button. The comparison is further explicitly made to South America’s legacy of organized murder, with the finger pointed to one cartel, Los Zetas, founded by ex-military.

Ruiz covers much about the failing drug war that has already been seen with more visceral impact: the business and legal angles in How To Make Money Selling Drugs (2013); violence cinema verité in Cartel Land this year; the mounting death toll filling graves in El Velador (2011). National Geographic has been regularly profiling the difficulties of the Border Patrol in its docuseries Border Wars, and here it is a neat visual gotcha when a bandanna-sporting, tattooed, muscular motorcyclist turns out to be an undercover agent/Homeland Security officer, Oscar Hagelsieb. But any Breaking Bad fan already knows that the big profits are now in dealing methamphetamine, so the extended tale of woe of the ex-marijuana smuggler Don Henry Ford Jr. just seems quaint.

In the meantime, the top priority for ending the war has been spurred on by the heartbreak and anger of sorrowful civilians, including the grief of executive producer Jimena Martí Haik over her kidnapped and murdered brother.

Written and Directed by Bernardo Ruiz
Produced by Ruiz and Katia Maguire
Released by Participant Media
English and Spanish with English subtitles
Mexico/USA. 74 min. Rated PG-13