Movie Review: Miss Bala

By Stephen Rebello

Blunt, brutal, deliberately out there and compulsively watchable, director Gerardo Naranjo's Miss Bala is strong stuff.

Director: Gerardo Naranjo

Rating: R

Studio: Canana Films

Blunt, brutal, deliberately out there and compulsively watchable, director Gerardo Naranjo’s Miss Bala is good, strong stuff. In this relentless, visually compelling film from Mexico co-written by Naranjo and Mauricio Katz, the nightmare ignites when the heroine (Stephanie Sigman), a Miss Baja beauty pageant aspirant whose family sells clothing out of a stall, witnesses a shootout in a nightclub that claims the life of her friend.

Instead of getting the help she seeks from the police the following day, she’s handed over to a particularly nasty, volatile drug lord (Noe Hernandez) and is forced to become human bait, a drug runner.  In her explosive transition from a would-be Miss Baja to Miss Bala (“bala” means bullets), things go rapidly from very bad to even worse and the finale offers no happy solution.  How could there be in a stylized but reality-oriented film set in a country wracked by a drug war that has killed 36,000 people in the past five years alone?

Part of Naranjo’s brilliance is in delivering wide screen, shoot-‘em-up violence and spectacular set pieces without getting off on them or exploiting the splatter.  Instead, he keeps the focus on a victimized, trapped and utterly powerless young woman – a chilling symbol for a nation caught and held hostage in the ceaseless crossfire.

If Miss Bala were an American movie, the heroine would come out swinging and make the bad guys eat lead. But Miss Bala is a movie made by people too battered by the harsh realities of daily life to be willing to deliver fairy tale wish fulfillment at the movies.

About the Author

Playboy Contributing Editor Stephen Rebello has written many Playboy Interviews and 20 Questions features. He is the author of such books as the notorious Bad Movies We Love (with Edward Margulies) and Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, the latter of which has inspired a dramatic feature film set for production in 2012. His most recent Playboy Interviews include Josh Brolin and Cameron Diaz.


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