Miss Bala - DVD Review

'the directing is probably somewhere close to what passes for 'unique' these days'

Miss Bala, a strikingly shot Mexican thriller by writer/director Gerardo Naranjo, follows the unfortunate tale of Laura Guerrero (Stephanie Sigman) as she becomes intimately involved with a group of drug dealers on her way to becoming the titular beauty queen of the title. Quite how she becomes involved with the drug dealers is one of the film's early failings. It feels very much like the scripting was limited to 'Laura meets Lino (Noe Hernandez)', without ever offering an explanation as to why the latter of those two people (the head of the gang) didn't just kill Lau, as he does with many others, on any one of several occasions. It's suggested that Lino takes a fancy to Lau and that, perhaps, come the end, her involvement is part of a greater plan but it still seems ill-thought out and the feeling that all this is happening for a convenient story's sake is hard to shake.

Once you get past these shaky openings though, Naranjo starts to show that he is not a director ready to accept the standard shot composition most thrillers go for. The directing in Miss Bala is probably somewhere close to what passes for 'unique' these days. There's lots of long flowing tracking shots, with characters leaving the frame and then re-entering when the camera catches up with them. Everything shot within a vehicle seems to have been done in one-shot real time. A character enters a car, the camera stays fixed, the character drives somewhere and exits. There's a lot of close-up headshots, sometimes from behind, Naranjo portraying the feeling of naturalism very ably. There is, and whisper this very quietly, some echoes of Alfonso CuarĂ³n's work on Children Of Men here.

The problem with all this is that, despite the interesting angles and the naturalistic take on exposing Mexico's drug violence, the whole thing is excruciatingly slow. Focusing in on the back of someones head is all very well when something interesting is happening in the background but when its just a TV playing or scenery going by in a car, it becomes an exercise in testing the audiences' patience. The plot, which starts to get rather convoluted, is drawn out like a slowly unravelling ball of pasta, details teased around whilst the camera meanders through a field, or in the dark outside a suspect vehicle.

The end result is therefore fairly predictable; Miss Bala is an interesting film with a willingness to try new ideas but it is never an engaging one. Sigman is fine but her emotional range does seem to have only two settings; crying and looking stunned. There's little there to connect with and, with all of the horrifying things that happen to her, you really need more. The lack of some form of sympathetic support is also noticeable, again hinting that the script could have done with more work if the film as a whole was ever to live up to Naranjo's ambitious style choices.

Look further...

'the true plot here is that of a pawn being dragged across a geopolitical chess board by many coarse and crimson-stained hands until she literally becomes a queen' - jamesrocchi.com


  1. i actually really liked it, and appreciated the directing. i would say that the story ended up redundant in some areas, and i didn't love the ending but i loved the acting the story

    1. I didn't actually mind the end (the very end, not the bit in the hotel), thought it was quite poignant. Glad you enjoyed it!