Miss Bala (2012)
Critic Consensus: Miss Bala's subject is loaded enough, but the frantic and muscular filmmaking puts this movie in a whole new league.
Miss Bala tells the story of Laura, a young woman whose aspirations of becoming a beauty queen turn against her, delivering her into the hands of a gang that's terrorizing northern Mexico. Although Laura succeeds in winning the beauty queen crown, her experiences as an unwilling participant in Mexico's violent war leave her shaken and transformed. -- (C) Fox International Productions
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Critic Reviews for Miss Bala
Naranjo is unflinching in his determination not to serve up mindless entertainment.
Maybe the film doesn't add up to quite as much as its talented director, Gerardo Naranjo, seems to have hoped, but it is tense and propulsive.
Miss Bala is full of virtuoso single-take tracking shots and over-the-shoulder perspectives that effectively convey a sense of menace and momentum.
Naranjo offers a grim subject with neither flash nor sentiment. It is a sober film done with style.
This strange and eerie noir is more a collection of knockout scenes than a fully realized story.
Audience Reviews for Miss Bala
Miss Bala (Mexico's foreign film entry for 2011) is an unwavering, startling, and deeply tense movie about one woman's tragic and unwilling association with a powerful drug cartel. Laura (Stephanie Sigman) wants to be the next Miss Baja California, but she's unwittingly pulled into a life of crime after she witnesses a gang hit. The cartel ensures that Laura wins the beauty pageant and becomes a courier for them. The movie takes a Lars von Trier approach to storytelling, putting its heroine through a torture chamber of anxiety and terror. This woman only wants to escape the hell she has accidentally found herself a part of, but every attempt to escape, be it going to the police or confessing assassination plots to the intended targets, gets her corralled back into the fray. For Laura, there is no escape. The movie packs a near-constant surge of paranoia, as we fear that at any time something awful will happen. In fact it's usually only a matter of time. Laura is more a symbol of the collateral damage of Mexico's billion-dollar drug war than a character, and she kind of becomes a numb zombie by the movie's latter half, perhaps accepting her doomed fate. Director Gerado Naranjo favors long unwinding takes and handheld cameras, which add a gritty realism and sense of compounding dread to the picture. The movie has an unflinching level of realism to it that makes it all the more haunting, stripping the romanticism from a life of crime. Much like Italy's heralded crime film Gomorrah, this bleak but impassioned movie shows the inescapable tentacles of organized crime and gives a face to innocents caught in the middle. Miss Bala is a testament to the hidden toll of a nation at war with itself.
Nate's Grade: B+
In "Miss Bala," Laura(Stephanie Sigman), a 23-year old shop girl, and her friend Suzu(Lakshmi Picazo) sign up for a beauty pageant, Miss Baja California. That night instead of shopping for a dress, Suzu drags her friend along to a nightclub. Bored, Laura wanders off where she is found by a gunman who asks her questions about who is inside, gives her a little money and tells her to get lost. Well, not before Laura can get Suzu out but they become separated once the shooting starts and Laura makes it to safety out a window. The following morning Suzu is still missing and Laura does the sensible thing in going to a policeman. But instead of taking her to a police station, he takes her to Lino(Noe Hernandez), the criminal leader, who asks her what she knows before inquiring if she can drive a car.
There are statistics given at the end of "Miss Bala" about how many people have died in the drug wars in northern Mexico. Now, using a beauty pageant may seem like a screwy way at first to get there but according to the literature, a beauty queen is supposed to represent her subjects and Laura does, if you mean her subjects include those trapped in between the authorities and the criminals. The movie is on neither side, as it paints the authorities as corrupt and in cold blooded fashion Lino lets the DEA know that they are not welcome in Mexico. All of which is seen through Laura's eyes as she provides a ground level view of what goes on around her for the viewer, as she becomes little more than a commodity to the criminals with her body(notice how it is described, by the way) used and abused, with little choice in her actions. Even with large amounts of money on the table, she is not really tempted, either, with the exception of a scene in an upscale dress shop. The most important lesson in all of this is to always listen to your parents.
I could swear that I had already reviewed this piece but Flixster still has it on my "want to see" list so here we go again. With shades of Traffic and Maria Full of Grace, we have Miss Bala which has similar storylines. Perhaps it is unnecessary to get into themes so richly covered by those previous films but Miss Bala gives us the unique, and possibly true, angle of the beauty queen working for criminals. It works out nicely.
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