Miss Bala is mucha macha feminista, but a bust of thriller

Movie review: Miss Bala

Catherine Hardwicke loads the barrel with a strong, smart heroine and a pioneering edge, yet she never achieves a straight arc with Miss Bala, despite a solid, near-omnipresent performance from Rodriguez

Miss Bala

3/5

Starring: Gina Rodriguez, Ismael Cruz Cordova, Anthony Mackie, Cristina Rodlo

Directed by: Catherine Hardwicke

Running time: 1 hr 44 mins

Rating: Parental Guidance

By Katherine Monk

If you haven’t seen the original, 2011 Spanish version of Miss Bala from Gerardo Naranjo, you’ll be able to see Catherine Hardwicke’s largely English-language remake as a true novelty. Which is good, because in many ways, it is.

A big-budget action movie featuring a Latina lead in Gina Rodriguez (from TV’s Jane the Virgin), Miss Bala is a bullet of a film aimed straight at the heart of an underserved audience, or what the press materials refer to as the “Latinx” community across North America, “the industry’s most loyal and fastest-growing demographic.”

Rodriguez plays Gloria, a makeup artist living in Los Angeles, trying to get ahead in a world where her creativity and talent are unvalued, and her complexion renders her invisible. When she heads down to Tijuana to visit her BFF Suzu (Cristina Rodlo), she’s suddenly accepted. Her gifts and beauty are visible, and she feels alive and loved.

A big-budget action movie featuring a Latina lead in Gina Rodriguez (from TV’s Jane the Virgin), Miss Bala is a bullet of a film aimed straight at the heart of an underserved audience, or what the press materials refer to as the “Latinx” community across North America, “the industry’s most loyal and fastest-growing demographic.”

Until gunmen storm the nightclub. Suzi wanted to network before the big beauty pageant she’s slated to compete in. Gloria was just there to help with the makeup, and now she’s dodging bullets to escape the bloodbath. She crawls to freedom, but she can’t find Suzu. She waits with other survivors, and finally tells the police what she knows: She saw one of the gunmen up close and could identify him. He had green eyes.

She doesn’t say he was also startlingly handsome, but I’ll mention it because it’s one of three central differences in the two films. The first is nationality. Our Gloria is a passport-carrying American citizen. She speaks Spanish with an American accent, which makes identity a central issue. The second big change is Gloria’s ambition. In the original, she actually dreamed of becoming a beauty queen because as a woman of meagre means, it was her only way of achieving some sort of value. This Gloria has no desire to parade around in a lamé dress. She’s simply forced to do so as a result of terrible circumstance: Gloria is taken captive by the gunmen’s mob, and forced into abetting their crimes.

The last big shift revolves around the dynamic between Gloria and Lino, the mobster who’s taken her captive. The Mexican version didn’t offer up a handsome villain who suppressed his sexual desires. They offered up something a lot more real, an older, ordinary-looking man who offered the promise of physical protection while imposing his own sexual needs.

The emotional equation was easy to sum. Gloria understood the bargain. Resisting meant certain death. In Hardwicke’s workbook, the male lead is rendered into something of a latter-day teen idol. Ismael Cruz Cordova makes a believable Latino Brando, but in making him a somewhat de-sexed threat, the tension never builds to the point where it’s uncomfortable in the post-Breaking Bad era.

The emotional equation was easy to sum. Gloria understood the bargain. Resisting meant certain death. In Hardwicke’s workbook, the male lead is rendered into something of a latter-day teen idol. Ismael Cruz Cordova makes a believable Latino Brando, but in making him a somewhat de-sexed threat, the tension never builds to the point where it’s uncomfortable in the post-Breaking Bad era.

Hardwicke loads the barrel with everything any feminist action fan could hope for: a strong, smart, resilient heroine, as well as a pioneering edge on the bigger picture. Yet, she never achieves a straight arc, despite a solid, near-omnipresent performance from Rodriguez. Miss Bala splatters shotgun-style, with fragments of narrative shrapnel piercing every scene, without hitting any specific dramatic targets.

The movie still draws blood. It shoots through the paper tigers of the current politics, and blows a hole through a few Hollywood stereotypes. However, unlike its Mexican predecessor, this Miss Bala is determined to end on forcefully hopeful note. It leaves room for redemption of the whole system, where the other only found space for a single soul.

It also leaves room for a sequel. Which may be a symptom of the system itself, and a reason why Miss Bala only seems to graze the ugly demon at the core of it all, the corruptive force of greed, and our willingness to sacrifice even noble intentions in search of the next dollar.

@katherinemonk

Main image: Gina Rodriguez and Ismael Cordova star in Miss Bala. Courtesy of Sony Pictures.
THE EX-PRESS, February 1, 2019

-30-

Review: Miss Bala

User Rating

0 (0 Votes)

Summary

3Score

Hardwicke loads the barrel with everything any feminist action fan could hope for: a strong, smart, resilient heroine, as well as a pioneering edge on the bigger picture. Yet, she never achieves a straight arc, despite a solid, near-omnipresent performance from Rodriguez. Miss Bala splatters shotgun-style, with fragments of narrative shrapnel piercing every scene, without hitting any specific dramatic targets. The movie still draws blood. It shoots through the paper tigers of the current politics, and blows a hole through a few Hollywood stereotypes. However, unlike its Mexican predecessor, this Miss Bala is determined to end on forcefully hopeful note. It leaves room for redemption of the whole system, where the other only found space for a single soul. -- Katherine Monk

No Replies to "Miss Bala is mucha macha feminista, but a bust of thriller"

    Leave a reply

    Your email address will not be published.