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Review: Miss Bala (2019)

Miss Bala (2019)

Directed by: Catherine Hardwicke

Premise: A remake of the 2011 Mexican film. An American (Gina Rodriguez) visits her friends in Tijuana and is kidnaped by a Mexican drug cartel. She is forced to participate in criminal activities while looking for her friend. 

What Works: Miss Bala is a PG-13 action picture and the film plays as a throwback to the kinds of movies that were popular a couple of decades ago; the influence of films like Point Break and Desperado are found throughout Miss Bala and it has a similar feel. This movie was directed by Catherine Hardwicke who had previously helmed Twilight and Lords of Dogtown. Hardwicke is a skilled filmmaker with an energetic and visceral style. The best parts of Miss Bala are its action scenes. The set pieces, especially a shootout inside of an arena, are well choreographed and retain a credible scale. Hardwicke avoids over the top stunts and uses handheld camerawork in a way that conveys chaos and danger but it is restrained enough to keep the action intelligible. Gina Rodriguez a likable leading actress. Her character is not a warrior or a sleuth but she is forced to be crafty and ruthless in order to survive and Rodriguez carries herself through this unlikely scenario in a way that gives it some credibility.

What Doesn’t: Miss Bala never escapes the improbability of its premise. The story hinges upon the officers of a drug cartel—a criminal enterprise built on personal connections in an industry riddled with paranoia and violence—taking in an unknown American woman and putting her in the middle of their organization. The film does its credibility no favors with a series of coincidences, unnecessarily complicated plans, and other unlikely scenarios. Miss Bala’s credibility and dramatic stakes are hobbled by its PG-13 sensibilities. This movie is clearly intended to appeal to teenagers but in fashioning this story for that audience the filmmakers remove the teeth from the material. Unlike Sin Nombre or the Sicario films, this is a softened version of cartel violence. Miss Bala never gets the viciousness or capricious paranoia of the drug cartel culture and that reduces the tension and the stakes. The film also fails to make the criminal lifestyle seductive. The latter half of the film suggests moral equivalency between the DEA and the cartels and offers Gina Rodriguez’s character a chance at position and power within the criminal enterprise. This should be a moral test of her character but that never quite works out in part because the cartel’s senior officer, played by Ismael Cruz Cordova, is not interesting.  

Bottom Line: Miss Bala is a forgettable action picture. Much of the film is competently done but the story never overcomes its inherent credibility problems and the effort to make this subject accessible to a PG-13 audience just takes the edge out of the material.

Episode: #737 (February 17, 2019)