Director: Gerardo Naranjo
Cast: Stephanie Sigman, Noe Hernandez
Running Time: 113 minutes
If there’s one thing that we’ve learned from Walter White’s skirmishes with the cartel in Breaking Bad, it’s that they’re a right brutal, bad bunch of bastards. Director Gerardo Naranjo is probably inclined to agree, although maybe doesn’t share the same vision of finely-tailored-suit-wearing, Patrón guzzling Mexican warlords. In fact, he rejects the romanticised vision of these drug gangs, telling The Wall Street Journal, “these guys are ignorant and they are negating life.”
Loosely inspired by real events, Miss Bala – Miss Bullet in Spanish – tells the tale of Laura (Sigman), a beautiful young Mexican girl with aspirations of fame and winning a local pageant. A case of being at the wrong warehouse disco at the wrong time leads her on an uneasy decent into the Mexican underworld and bizarrely, the partially warped world of beauty contests.
Naranjo has all the ingredients of an interesting thriller here; a cartel versus DEA war, a forced kidnapping with a possible onslaught of Stockholm Syndrome, and the absurdity of a frock parading pageantry. Where as some may crank the heat and burn such a plot, he unfortunately does just the opposite, cooking at a low temperature and never really allowing the story to rise.
The main problem is that we never really get inside what the leads, Laura and Nino (Hernandez), motives or thoughts are. Nino is a truly horrible person, a-run-you-over-in-a-truck-while-you’re-tied-to-a-chair kind of horrible person, but we never get his reasoning for using Laura as a pawn in his fight against the American drug agents. A soldier in plain clothing? Sick amusement? Amorous feelings? It doesn’t deliver answers. His interactions with her, save some idle threats, never give the impression he’ll actually hurt Laura.
Laura too, is just as hard to gauge, her half-witted attempts at escape suggests she somewhat enjoys her shackles. One hilarious escape sees her scarper from her captors only to pop into the local dress shop for a fitting. While Sigman’s performance had come with some high praise following Cannes, it’s hard to see what people saw in her somnambulist meanderings through the proceedings.
Miss Bala aimed to show a different side to the shameful underbelly of Mexico, yet ends up with the same simple caricatures that Naranjo had criticised previously. Laura’s story too, is unfortunately one that’s been treaded over before, and done much better, particularly in Maria Full Of Grace.