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Miss Bala – Movie Review

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Miss Bala – Movie Review

Rating: D (Very Bad)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Sony Pictures

There is a lot of potential in a butt-kicking female-led action movie with a Latina lead and with Gina Rodriguez as the protagonist, Miss Bala could have fulfilled that. Unfortunately, the finished film is a plodding mess with distracting cinematography and little growth for the characters. Most insultingly and surprisingly, the movie perpetuates dangerous stereotypes about Mexico. Catherine Hardwicke is an accomplished director and her and Rodriguez’s intentions are probably innocent, but with the current political climate, to present a film with these sorts of messages is unnerving. However, even without Trump’s America looming over the film, Miss Bala would still be a tedious picture.

Miss Bala begins promisingly when the audience is introduced to Rodriguez’s Gloria. However, one of the main problems is she exhibits little change or character development throughout the story. That is until an abrupt change in the climax, but it feels completely unearned. Rodriguez certainly gives the role her all, but she is not given good enough material to work with. The same applies to the supporting characters, almost all of which fade into the background. There’s a tiny bit of humanity attempted with a drug lord Gloria finds herself entangled with, but that vanishes quickly and he remains a one-dimensional villain. This creates little excitement or interest in the proceedings and the languid pacing doesn’t help matters.

The filmmaking aspects are especially disappointing, with the cinematography being notably bothersome. The camera is either frequently shaking, making scenes like a shoot-‘em-up difficult to decipher, or it’s incredibly close-up on the actors’ faces. The editing jumps from scene to scene with little dramatic tension. Moments that should be suspenseful don’t register at all, which is a shame as the set-ups are definitely there for some frightful scenes. However, there’s never a moment when one fears for Gloria’s life as everything is telegraphed in an unsubtle manner. The final scenes especially beat things into the viewer’s head, via both obvious visual cues and the music choices.

What is most troublesome about Miss Bala is its depiction of Mexico. The country’s amazing culture is barely touched upon, with the focus only on either lavish beauty pageants or drug cartels. The beauty pageant is only a minor plot point, anyway, so most of the focus is on the drug lords. Almost every Mexican is portrayed as a murderous drug dealer, while the American characters are portrayed as the heroes. Throughout the film, Gloria’s Latina side is only partially mentioned. The intention is obviously to show how she resides in two different worlds, but it creates other connotations. With recent discourse over building a wall and the continuing racism thrown towards Mexicans in this day and age, it feels especially irresponsible to make a film like this.

Despite only running about a hour and forty-ish minutes, Miss Bala feels a lot longer as the story and character development is thin and while Gina Rodriguez attempts to bring some personality to the lead role, there is only so much to work with. It’s the political elements that create the most discomfort, though. While likely not intentional, the messages presented in Miss Bala come across as offensive to an entire culture of people. What could have been an actual look at the drug trade going on between the borders, ala Sicario, instead becomes something far more ugly in its themes.

Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison