Miss Bala

Drugs Wars and a Beauty Contest


20 January 2012| No Comments on Miss Bala     by Sean Chavel



Something very phony is at work here. Miss Bala (Spanish, in English subtitles), about the drug wars in Baja California and Tijuana, and a fixed beauty contest, presents a female protagonist by the name of Laura Guerrero (Stephanie Sigman) who starts strong before getting dragged through the plot like a cipher. This is obviously the work of a very talented director named Gerardo Naranjo, but he has been affected by the films of too many other directors. It’s almost obvious that he loves “Boogie Nights” (1997), “Heat” (1995), “Traffic” (2000), “Amores Perros” (2000) and especially the work of Quentin Tarantino. But this mash of influences somehow disconcerts his work. What’s worse is when he tries to get artsy on his own. Hey, if it’s a totally thin soup scene at hand – let the camera draw back slowly and let the take run for minutes at a time! It will automatically make it more suspenseful!

Emotionally desolate, early strands of the story have Laura entering a questionable beauty contest that is less glamorous than expected. Late at night, following her passed audition earlier that day, Laura witnesses a gangland slaying. Her best friend is unaccounted for, and she goes snooping around the next day. Her actions have forfeited the pageant for her.

Laura ends up asking the wrong people the wrong questions, and before she knows it, she’s ensnared by Lino Valdez’s drug cartel (Noe Hernandez, effective believability if not particularly charismatic). Then his rivals want to use her as an infiltrator. And the American DEA wants her as their mole. Somehow, she is shoehorned back into the beauty contest which is rigged for her to win, quite preposterously. In our recent history, the 2007 Miss Teen USA contestant from South Carolina with that infamously bad speech had a more perspicacious answer than Miss Bala’s.

There’s also art-film pedigree female martyrdom at play here. Laura is the victim of a rape scene that is gratuitously etched in. And, tumbling action, she is required to duck out of the way during two major gunfights. She’s covering her ears on the ground, but during the crossfire, you might be earnestly asking: Who is shooting at whom?

To me it’s a thriller of obscure information. And Laura, by the time she’s being ordered to visit the General’s private quarters to be used as a sex object, she ceases to be a real character.

113 Minutes. Rated R. Spanish in English subtitles.


Film Cousins: “Traffic” (2000); “Amores Perros” (2000, Mexico); “Maria Full of Grace” (2004, Colombia); “Trade” (2007).

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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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