The Meddler is a cinéma-vérité portrait of German Cabrera, a man on a mission in Guatemala. His relentless, nightly goal is to photograph criminals – either just mooching about or caught in the act of illegal deeds – and thereby expose them.
The government is doing nothing and the cops are not fast enough onto the scene, so this Meddler charges into chaotic, dangerous situations with his trusty digital camera. Although he becomes a minor celebrity with a TV current affairs segment, he swears that he does this work neither for money nor fame.
At the start of this vivid condensation of several years in the subject’s life, Cabrera comes across almost as a Travis Bickle/Taxi Driver type: obsessive, strangely moralistic (especially when he leans out of his car and yells at random kids: “Have you been drinking? What are you smoking?”). I kept waiting for the switcheroo, some ugly revelation about his own private life.
But drama emerges from elsewhere: German alienates his first wife, and eventually starts a new family with another partner – all the while teaching his sons to avoid the violence and drugs of the street, to get jobs and lead normal, stable lives. He even, finally, gets to sleuth in tandem with the cops.
The Meddler, co-directed by Daniel Leclair (who sits next to German in his fortified van and converses with him in Spanish) and Alex Roberts, is full of sensational TV-style techniques: dramatic music, sharp editing, drone-camera views of the city. Like many documentaries of this sort, it seems desperate to find and trace a conventional narrative arc.
The hook here involves the father from whom German is long estranged, perhaps wrongfully arrested (the case is murky) and definitely abused in a Nicaraguan prison. German, to his frustration and despair, cannot really manage to intervene in the unfolding case, but monitors it nervously from home.
As in a typical Hollywood movie, German hits a low-point about three-quarters of the way through – an underworld threat reaches his home – and he has to rethink his crusading life. But does he? Any fan of true-crime media will be keen to see how The Meddler pans out.
© Adrian Martin August 2020