Miss Bala (2011)
Miss Bala (2011)
Director: Gerardo Naranjo
Cast: Stephanie Sigman, Irene Azuela, Jose Yenque
Synopsis: After entering a beauty contest in Tijuana, a young woman witnesses drug-related murders and is forced to do the gang’s bidding.
I’ve got to admit that in the wake of the prominent movies that have come out of South America in the last few years I was expecting something more from the highly-publicised and widely-praised Miss Bala. Unfortunately, the film saddles itself with a stubbornly passive central character with no control over her own destiny who spends too much of her time staring at the floor and looking terrified.
Rangy Stephanie Sigman plays Laura, a 23-year-old girl living in a Mexican border town with her father and small brother. In an attempt to escape the grinding poverty in which she and her family live, Laura decides to enter the Miss Baja California Beauty Pageant with her friend. After winning entry into the pageant Laura reluctantly agrees to go to a seedy club with her friend. In the club’s toilets she witnesses the covert entry of an organised drugs cartel led by Lino Valdez (Noé Hernández). Lino is quite taken by Laura, and allows her to escape. However, when Laura reports her missing friend to a corrupt police officer, she finds herself delivered back into the hands of Lino, and entangled ever deeper in a vicious drugs war.
Although her character is that of the helpless victim throughout the movie, newcomer Sigman delivers an incredibly effective performance as the hapless Laura, who effectively serves as a cipher for the people of Mexico, most of whom find their lives affected by an epic war between rival drug cartels and the DEA that has been waged for the past five years. You feel her terror and can’t help but sympathise, even as the dull script refuses to allow you to become particularly involved in her plight. Noé Hernández is also effective as the leader of the Cartel, who manages to be both menacing and strangely sympathetic at the same time.
Director Gerardo Naranjo uses subdued lighting and a notable lack of music to create an effectively ominous atmosphere. Paradoxically, although the film drags badly at times, it also feels as if time is compressed, so that Laura is trusted with too much responsibility too soon. And while Naranjo’s style of direction is perhaps part of the reason why it was so difficult to become involved with the characters, he does deliver powerful action set pieces, particularly the explosive moment when Laura inadvertently drives into the middle of a pitched battle between the Cartel and law enforcement officers.
So, while Miss Bala boasts some worthy performances and an earnest approach to a national plight which ought to be told, too often it fails to engage and will probably leave you feeling completely depressed.
(Reviewed 9th March 2012)