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February 4, 2019

Miss Bala (2019) --- "Who Would You Become To Save Your Family?"

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     Directed by Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight) and written by Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer (Contrapelo), Miss Bala (2019) is an entertaining action thriller that follows Gloria (Gina Rodriguez), a makeup artist in L.A., as she returns to Mexico to visit her best friend Suzu (Cristina Rodlo), who is competing in a beauty pageant. Unbeknownst to her, a fun night at the club would pull her into a turf war between the local cartel and dirty cops. Gloria survives the shooting but must play a game of cat and mouse with the DEA, the cartel, and dirty cops in order to find her friend and survive a nightmarish vacation. Will she find her friend in time? Will she escape before its too late?

     Now its been difficult to take Director Hardwicke seriously in the film industry. Although she did create two decent films that I enjoyed – Lords of Dogtown (2005) and The Nativity Story (2006) – most of her filmography is made up of misfires and mediocrity – like the first Twilight (2008) film and Red Riding Hood (2011). Her methods are overkill, even with delicate material, and yet her aggressive style of directing seems to be the right fit for this film. For those who don’t know Miss Bala (2019) is based on Gerardo Naranjo’s 2011 drama (of the same name) inspired by a true story about an aspiring beauty queen who gets caught in the crosshairs of a cartel strike.
     The opening credits note that this film is “based on the Spanish-language film” but that is just about all the mentioning that the original film gets, which gives the impression that the filmmakers are trying to both respects the original and distance themselves from it. And considering that the original girl is a perpetual victim that is helpless and powerless against the influence of every system she encountered, it’s no wonder why the filmmakers would choose differentiate themselves from the original.
   Through Hardwicke’s directing and Dunnet-Alcocer’s script, the story consistently depicts the events of the film from Gloria’s perspective, from beginning to end the audience experience everything right alongside her. As a result, the story is able to deliver plenty of exciting plot twists, while the interesting camera angles help to intensify the action sequences – like distorting the audience in wild firefights or zoning in on key moments amid the action. By the end, Miss Bala successfully delivers its message to the audience: be careful with who you put your trust in, especially when you're in unknown/unfamiliar territory. Throughout the film, Gloria puts her trust in people whose actions later cause her to regret doing so.
     In addition to separating itself from the original, this film gives Gloria the authorization to fight back both physically and emotionally, by changing Gloria from being a survivor to a fighter. And while this causes the film to OD on its feminist empowerment message, it also refreshes the original film’s disturbingly blunt story and leaves room from a new franchise.
     The cast performances were great. This is the second time I’ve seen Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin, Deepwater Horizon) give a dramatic performance, the first being her performance in Deepwater Horizon, and I thought she did a great job. It's always nice to see a new or relatively new actor demonstrate that there is more to their skills than just one genre. Ismael Cruz Cordova (Ray Donavan) was good as Lino, he easily pulls off the charming but incredibly dangerous character. Rodriguez and Cordova complement each other well and their dynamic throughout the film are both tense and mesmerizing. The rest of the characters did great as well, Anthony Mackie's (Avengers: Infinity War) character was a little underused due to only having a few small scenes but perhaps the audience will get to see more of him if there is a sequel.

     Overall, Miss Bala (2019) is an exciting and thrilling film that, while it is based on Spanish-language film, manages to respect the original but also separate itself as its own film. Now I am not saying that this is the best film yet, but it is a pretty fair and enjoyable film. The story was good despite a few issues that may be the result of directing, and the cast delivered great performances. This film is PG-13 but there is a good amount of violence, a little profanity, and hints at nudity that are so minor they couldn’t even really be called sexual. This film has the potential to be the start of an interesting new action series, especially if a better director decided to take the helm. Perhaps Michael Cuesta (American Assassin) or Chad Stahelski & David Leitch (John Wick series). All in all, I recommend this film.

"La Bala. The Bullet settles everything."
- Gloria

Final Vote --- 7 of 10 stars

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