Friday’s TV: The Thin White Line

December 18, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

UNREPORTED WORLD:SEVEN DAYS IN HELL, Channel 4, Friday 19th December, 7.35pm Alert Me

We have, to a certain extent, become used to the idea of violence. We read about it every day in our newspapers, shocked but comfortable at such a remove. This, one of Unreported World’s most interesting and sensitive installments, takes us from our civilised little comfort zone and plunges us head first into the appalling levels of gang violence that plague Mexico. The shows opens with the thunder of an army helicopter and ambulance sirens, and the pace is fairly relentless.

What’s most stunning about the situation in Mexico is the sheer scale of the problem. For once, this truly is a war on drugs, with the army deployed in suburban streets, and thousands dying every year. Reporter Evan Williams drives from one cartel execution to the next, each one coming mere hours after the last, and each more brutal than the last.

Williams’ presentation is suitably matter of fact. He slips into over-emotive diction only once or twice, but the power of the images and the facts is more than sufficient to keep anyone hooked. Obviously, Unreported World is as limited as any legitimate broadcast production must be. Williams can only talk with those who are at one remove from the violence – relatives of the victims, and the police trying and failing to deal with the problem. What’s most striking though is the perennial problem in any city facing such large-scale organised crime – no-one will admit to knowing anything, or anyone involved, for fear of repercussions. It is, of course, hard to imagine personal involvement in such a situation, but it seems like a vicious cycle as violence leads to silence and fear, and fear and silence leads to escalations in the violence. Mexico is at the extreme end of the cycle as the cartels operate with impunity, murdering anyone who crosses their path – including a senior homicide detective – and keeping enough people in their employ that one of the few good guys left is unwilling to talk in the state parliament building due to her certainty that they could be heard by spies.

Unreported World doesn’t make for comfortable viewing, but it is an education in the real affect of a thin white line.

By Chris Harding