#REVIEW: “MISS BALA”
Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
Gloria (Gina Rodriguez) is an American visiting her cousin in Tijuana. During a deadly nightclub shootout, the pair are separated. As she grows desperate to find her cousin, Gloria gets drawn into the inner workings of a local cartel led by Lino (Ismael Cruz Cordova) – and she learns quickly that she must do whatever it takes to survive.
Catherine Hardwicke, the acclaimed Director of Thirteen and Twilight, is not the first person I would think of to tackle a movie like Miss Bala. The Film, a remake of a 2011 Spanish language film, is a Thriller that pushes the confines of its PG-13 rating. Its action scenes come fast and furiously, adding punctuations of violence to the picture. And the more suspenseful scenes have a gritty and edgy touch. These scenes are shot stylishly and edited quite well. Hardwicke also gives the Film a yellow haze that never dissipates, allowing the Mexican locales to feel like they are practically taking on a life of their own.
But the look of the Film and its action scenes is where the praise ends. Looking past the mild thrills and questionable real world overtones, the majority of Miss Bala feels lifeless, mundane and painfully ordinary. Nothing happens that could not be predicted well in advance, and all the exciting moments come in-between inconsequential exposition that is plagued by a “seen it, done it” feel. The Film is framed as a harrowing journey for a reluctant hero, but we are never really given a reason to care about her plight. We learn next to nothing about Gloria outside of her primary motivation for finding her cousin, and her transition in the Film’s finale into a gun toting vigilante rings false based on everything that came previously. Worse, the Film makes an explicit attempt to make Lino, the Film’s primary villain, as sympathetic and compelling as possible. There’s a reason for this, but then why is the film not focused on him instead? At least that could have made it slightly more interesting.
While the Supporting Cast is filled with Latino actors (and for some wild reason, Anthony Mackie), only Cordova and Rodriguez make any sort of impact. Cordova is quite good as Lino, effectively balancing menace and compassion, often at the same time. He knows he is playing a stereotypical villain, but is just as keenly aware of the right tone and inflection needed to emphasize each of his scenes. He does a very good job supporting Rodriguez, who does her very best to carry Miss Bala on her shoulders. This is her first mainstream leading film role and is a far cry from the sweet and innocent young woman she plays on Jane the Virgin. She knows she has something to prove here, and she gives it her all. She struggles in some instances with and soars in others. The Script does her no favours, but she rises above it every chance she gets. Rodriguez is a formidable talent who deserves to headline a full blown action picture – not just the tease we get here.
Miss Bala is entertaining enough as a throwaway Action-Thriller, but lacks the spark needed to be considered anything but ordinary. The short amount of thrills is not enough to make up for an inconsequential script that does no one on-screen justice. I can only hope this will not be the last time we see Rodriguez in the Action realm.
Sony Pictures Canada release MISS BALA on February 1, 2019.