By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
When I ran across some news last week that actor extraordinaire Michael Fassbender had signed up on a project with Mexican Director Gerardo Naranjo, it reminded me that I never had gotten around to seeing the film that caught Hollywood’s eye- Miss Bala. It was well-received at Cannes, resurfaced again at the margins of the Best Foreign Language Film race, then disappeared again until we finally got a DVD release nearly I year after I put it on my must-watch list.
The film follows a poor young woman from the Baja region ofMexicowho seeks to enter a beauty pageant, but who gets drawn into the violent world of narcotraficos (drug-runners) when a night at the dance hall turns into a bloody confrontation. At first an unwilling hostage, the lines begin to blur as she gets drawn deeper into their world, and now opportunities begin to open up for her that may never have been possible otherwise. And, of course, they have a price.
Ask your counselor about the wonderful world of Drug Muling today!
Narango’s choice to intermix beauty pageants and drug smuggling is nothing if it isn’t unique. He sheds light on the inner workings of both, and it’s fascinating how he weaves them together. On the performance front, Noe Hernandez is absolutely chilling as the stone-faced narco leader, whose Home Depot parking lot exterior covers a fierce intelligence and will to survive.
He could be Demian Bichir’s evil twin
However, it’s Stephanie Sigman who is asked to shoulder the bulk of the acting load as Laura, the protagonist. The camera lingers on her for incredible stretches of time, and any actor or actress having to deal with that would be forced to bring their ‘A’ game. She does, and it will be interesting to witness her growth as an actress in the many roles she’s sure to land from here.
The real attraction of the film, though, is the camerawork. Naranjo appears to be aggressively opposed to framing anything conventionally, and the result, especially in the action sequences, is exhilarating. He packs his tableaus with action and movement, and it’s almost a shame to watch it if you don’t know Spanish, as focusing on the subtitles deprives you of time you could spend taking in everything that is going on in a scene. If any film practically demands a rewatch, it’s this one.
The one consistent issue I had with the film was its pace. At times, the plot and action sweep you up into the story, only to slam on the brakes for extended scenes that could have been cut to half their length. The whiplash can be jarring.
I smell a Judge Judy appearance
This is exacerbated at the end, which Naranjo stuffs with extended close-ups of Sigman whose point escaped me. Surely the last one didn’t last ten minutes, but can’t swear to you that it didn’t, either.
A little more editing could have turned this into a masterpiece, but as is this film is still a herald for some exciting new talents to watch.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time Laura is called a pet name, like “Canelita”
Take a Drink: whenever you see a large wad of cash
Drink a Shot: whenever violence strikes like lightning out of a clear sky