Miss Bala (2019)

Drug Money and Beauty Contests


02 February 2019| No Comments on Miss Bala (2019)     by Sean Chavel



Miss Bala is a remake of the 2011 Spanish film where a beauty contestant became ensnared in a crossfire between drug cartels and American DEA agents out to exploit her accessibility. It won respectability and was graced with a limited theatrical release in the States, but I thought the action was overcooked and the heroine was nothing more than cipher dictated by the grinds of the plot. I had little hope for the American remake with Gina Rodriguez since I heard there were going to be changed elements, and anytime you hear those words “changed elements,” that always means it is for the worse. While it’s also a movie I didn’t like, this remake is not completely abysmal and I think it’s better than the original for what it’s worth.

Almost the entire movie takes place south of the border on the other side of San Diego. Gloria (Rodriguez) accompanies her friend Suzu (Cristina Rodlo) to the sign-up of a beauty pageant. In the evening, at a nightclub, Suzu hopes to warm up to the Chief of Police who has influence on the Miss Baja California outcome – I think the idea is that Suzu has to succumb to being all very slutty and easy, but never mind, this part is briefly just touched upon. Gloria is embarrassed for her friend’s lack of dignity and excuses herself to the bathroom, all the while a cartel team sneaks inside the windows with the intent of shooting the Chief of Police. All in all, it’s a poorly done ambush, and nightclub shootouts in general have become less artistic since 1983’s “Scarface.” The Chief of Police gets away, Suzu goes missing after the shootout, and Gloria wants to talk to any cop who can help her find her friend.

By morning, Gloria has talked to the wrong crooked cop, is handed over to the cartel, and is blackmailed into doing favors for Lino (Ismael Cruz Cordova), leader of this cartel. The very close-minded American DEA gets their hands on Gloria, too, and immediately she’s guilty by cultural association. In short, Gloria has to go through a very long dodge death expedition until she saves Suzu, saves Suzu’s little brother, and wins the right to go back to her normal life in Los Angeles.

This “Miss Bala” does just enough things wrong storytelling-wise that I was never on the cusp of surprisingly liking it. Lino’s cartel wants the very corrupt Chief of Police dead, but it’s obscure as to why there was a war of opposition. Lino’s cartel wants to engage in an all-out bloodbath with the American DEA, but that is also unexplained as to why that’s to him a battle worth winning. The actual beauty contest is so scribbled in during the third act, with Gloria now an unwanted contestant, it’s like nobody wanted to bother how to imagine the scene could be given dramatic heft.

What I did admire though was Rodriguez, who scene for scene, takes her character’s plight very seriously and truly is genuine in emotional breakdown when she learns she is responsible for other peoples’ deaths. So many other actresses would allow that to be tapered over. Director Catherine Hardwicke and Rodriguez also never forget, in any scene between Gloria and Lino, that relentless goosebump terror a woman feels when she is at the mercy of a brute who has the power to sexually exploit her. We see Gloria is very, very afraid but we feel the terror along with her. One of the accomplishments of Rodriguez’s performance is that we are convinced that this is not only the first time this character has ever picked up a gun, we’re also convinced this is a character not afraid to shoot a bad person if she has to in order to stay alive. She’s quite confident with a weapon in hand by the end, but that’s just the Hollywood arc of movie formula. Rodriguez always does what she can do when confronted dealing with contrived script moments.

I do want to back up to mention, a little more than mid-way, “Miss Bala” also has an interesting location on the outskirts of Tijuana. A post-modern mansion on a hill is removed from the rest of civilization it seems like, and Lino’s cartel has seized control of it. I am not in doubt that they were able to take over this house, whatever the unexplained circumstances are. Interesting to me though that this cartel, lounging in a first-rate dwelling, are unable to transcend their savage ways in how they treat their house. They are still very uncivilized and uncouth.

Here I was though, I realized, trying to find little things I liked in order to pass the time. Ultimately, “Miss Bala” contains only enough nuggets of truth and inclusive detail from keeping it from being the total trash it could have been. I give Rodriguez (known primarily from TV’s “Jane the Virgin”) some applause for giving it her all. Her Gloria is not a cipher.

104 Minutes. Rated PG-13.


Film Cousins: “Miss Bala” (2011, Mexico); “Sicario” (2015); “The Infilitrator” (2016); “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” (2018).





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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of flickminute.com, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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