Miss Bala Review - Compelling, Intense, A Wild Ride

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Miss Bala, from Sony Pictures Entertainment, brings to the screen a wild, fast action, south of the border ride as a weekend with family turns into a life or death race as two rival cartels fight for dominance.

Directed by Catherine Hardwicke, Miss Bala stars Gina Rodriguez, Christina Rodlo, Anthony Mackie, Ismael Cruz Cordova, Matt Laurie, Damian Alcazar, Ricardo Abarca, Lilian Guadalupe Tapia Robles, Aislinn Derbez, Omar Ayala, and Thomas Dekker.

The film begins with wide angle shots of Los Angeles, big, bright, the city of dreams and narrows to a room where Gloria, played by Gina Rodriguez, is finishing some make-up sketch work experimenting with new looks.


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Today she is working LA Fashion Week. Attempting to show the Makeup supervisor her work, he explained "you're not paid to think, you're paid to work."

No matter this weekend, as we find out, she is headed to Tijuana to help her Godson's sister, Suzu, played by Cristina Rodlo, prepare for the Miss Baja California Beauty Pageant. The two girls, who haven't seen each other in some time are reduced to giggling, giddy girls as they catch up.

Heading out to rub elbows with the powers behind the pageant they end up in a club, The Millennium, when all hell breaks loose and a rival cartel gang shots up the place. The two girls are separated.

Gloria ends up sitting in a diner all night waiting for her find to telephone her when she finally tries to get help from the local Mexican police. The tension continues to build as she is taken to some remote location by the cop who is on the take.

Forgetting she is in Mexico, where everyone has alliances she does the one thing she is warned againstas she begins to give a detailed statement of the shooters. Before she has a chance to react she is grabbed by Cartel members.

Finally she is delivered to a cartel safe house where Rosa, played by Lilian Guadalupe Tapia Robles, who doubles as both make-up artists and madam for this house.


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This is the second time we meet, Lino, played by Ismael Cruz Cordova, as he explains to Gloria, her situation, as he gave her ten seconds to leave the club and forget she ever saw them, has dramatically changed.

Now, in order to save her friend she is forced to perform several tasks. The first one she is told to drive a car to a location, park very close to the curb, and leave. The car is loaded with explosives and the house is a DEA safehouse.

She ends up escaping her chaperone, Poyo, played by Ricardo Abarca, Lino's lieutenant and runs into an American DEA Agent Brian Reich, played by Matt Laurie, who shows her pictures of the bombing and explains as much as we want to believe you, unless you work for us, your headed to the US prison system.

With the ruthless cartel leader Lino on one side and the DEA on the other, Gloria is slowly being squeezed. Her next task is to run a shipment of cocaine across the border. She manages not to raise any suspicion and delivers the drugs and cash to Jimmy, played by Anthony Mackie, who explains she has to tell Lino there is a DEA mole in his organization.


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Long past the point of no return, Gloria, from Los Angeles, an American citizen who just wants to find her friend realizes if she wants to make it home alive she needs to depend on herself.

This is where Miss Bala shifts from victim to avenger.

As drug cartel movies go, and unless they are the epic urban legend films, they tend to be told from a male point of view and easily sliced into parts. Miss Bala, brings a strong protagonist to drive the narrative and while she tends to depend on the alpha males running the show for the first half of the film, when she does take charge the film explodes.

Set predominately in Tijuana, and filmed in locations surroudning the city, with the raging turf wars, drugs, free flowing US dollars and ongoing corruption, and as we are told in Tijuana war is in the streets, there are no good guys only those who pay more.

The story, written by Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer, is solid. The unfortunate commonality surrounding mass shootings and other gang related violence is played with authenticity. It's almost as if going into the film one expect the cookie cutter version of drug cartel films and that is not what audiences will get.


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The scenes are fresh, presenting a deeper more genuine look at life inside the cartel. The merciless life, where everyone is expendable, where the bala, the bullet, settles everything. The cast, which is predominately of Latin decent, and may not be household names, are world class. 

Even as so much is going on the story essentially revolves around the two main cartel figures, Ismael Cruz Cordova, (Lino), and Ricardo Abarca, (Poyo) and Gina Rodriguez (Gloria).

These three carry the story and the acting is authentic. Bringing the emotion to the screen, fear or calm in the face of a hostage situation, elation over the kill, the antithesis of normality, and the twisted mental stakes as the cartel duo lead double lives, (in their own mind) of hero and mercenary. While they may be typed for awhile, as even the best actors are, they'll break through it.

Miss Bala, a fast action, kick ass and take hombres story, with enough compelling intrigue to last throughout the entire film. From beginning to end the film continues at a heightened pace, intensifying until the climatic ending.

Miss Bala opens February 1, 2019. See it.

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