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“Miss Bala” Review: “Bala” is Badass

“Sometimes we have to do terrible things to survive…” 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-kPf-n4Mto&w=560&h=315

“Miss Bala” is based on the 2011 Spanish-language film of the same name and is directed by Catherine Hardwicke (“Twilight,” “Lords of Dogtown”).  The film stars Gina Rodriguez as Gloria Fuentes (“Jane the Virgin”), Anthony Mackie (“Avengers: Infinity War”), Ismael Cruz Córdova (“Berlin Station,” “Ray Donovan”) as Lino and “Friday Night Lights” alum Matt Lauria as Brian. “Miss Bala” recently premiered to a welcoming Texan audience, courtesy of the Austin Film Society.

When her friend is captured, Gloria Fuentes (Rodriguez) is drawn into the dangerous and exciting world of cross-border crime. She must rely on her wits and strength to find her friend and make it out alive. In the process, Gloria discovers a power that she never knew she had.

AUSTIN, TEXAS – JANUARY 28: Director Catherine Hardwicke attends a special screening of “Miss Bala” at AFS Cinema on January 28, 2019 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Gary Miller/Getty Images for Sony Pictures)

At first glance, “Miss Bala” looks like any other big budget action adventure. It gets a bit more impressive when you learn that the entire production was shot in less than 40 days, with a budget coming in under $15 million. Not bad. Not bad, at all.

As an action film, in and of itself, “Miss Bala” is nothing to write home about. It’s good action. It’s entertaining action. It’s a formula and an execution that is familiar but done well.

As a female-led film, it’s doing something much more interesting.

Gina Rodriguez’s character, Gloria, is an intentional departure from the structure of the 2011 character she’s based on. The 2011 original was intended as a human embodiment of the violence in Mexico. This 2019 version of “Miss Bala” upholds Gloria as an inherently feminist character, centered on feminine rage and power.

Miss Bala
Anthony Mackie and Gina Rodriguez in “Miss Bala” | Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures

Action is widely accepted as a genre dominated by traditional ideas of masculinity. What I find interesting about “Miss Bala” is how seamlessly feminine issues and portrayals are woven into this very masculine space, without straying from the traditional markers of the genre.

“Miss Bala” touches on the issue of sex trafficking and, by further extension, is a subtle commentary on the traditional power struggle of men in power and women being crushed and exploited under that ambition. The film finds itself set in traditionally feminine space: a beauty pageant is the center point of all action and moves in the plot.

Most importantly, in this hostile scene, Gloria’s ability to survive (and, eventually, to thrive) hinges entirely on her womanhood. Her male captors underestimate her, because they perceive her femininity as weakness. She is able to use her beauty to sway situations and to insert herself precisely where she needs to be.

This action heroine is not the sort of heroine where these traditional masculine traits are draped over a female form. Her femininity is a huge part of her heroism and strength.

Well done.

This is a film that is best illustrated by its sum, rather than its parts. Of all the parts at play, Rodriguez’s performance is solid. She straddles that line of unsure captive and competent heroine very well and in a way that is believable.

That can be said for the entire film. “Miss Bala” is grounded in a sense of reality. Nothing feels too far-fetched or overreaching.

Maybe it’s the current political climate, maybe it’s that the cartel is to 2010s cinema that Islamic terrorists were to action in the 2000s, but movies about Mexican cartels have a way of getting too… cartel-ly? Not the case with “Miss Bala.” I can appreciate that this criminal organization was built more around relationships and specific goals than it was checking off certain items on a list of Things the Cartel Does.

Hardwicke is in fine form, on this one, and completely blows up the stereotype that action and women do not mix. That influence and her own experiences as a kickass female director are woven throughout the entire film and it’s definitely appreciated, by this critic.

Miss Bala

Ismael Cruz Córdova and Gina Rodriguez in “Miss Bala” | Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures

My verdict on “Miss Bala?” It’s a fun watch.

It’s not rewriting the book, nor is it a stellar example of the action genre. What it is, is a great performance from a fabulous Latina actress that deftly navigates the subtle nuances of much larger conversations.

“Miss Bala” opens in theaters on February 1.

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