This is a riveting, shocking Mexican film based on actual events in the ongoing war on Mexico’s drug cartels and its vicious, murderous human toll on innocent people. Miss Bala, like Maria Full of Grace (2004) and The Devil’s Double (2011), follows an innocent individual as she is suddenly forced into cooperating with a violent gang or mafia at great risk to her life, but must continue through with the ordeal until the end, not knowing if she’ll survive.
Mexico has become an incredibly dangerous, lawless place with parts of the country being controlled by extremely rich, brutal and heavily armed drug lords and their network of corrupted officials. Anyone who has followed the news in the past few years would be familiar with how little power the government has against these cartels. (See recent news articles below) There are so many stories of places in Mexico where brutally murdered and decapitated bodies of police and innocent bystanders are found lying in the streets or hanging from bridges almost every day. The film tells us that 36,000 lives have been lost since the war on drugs was launched in Mexico between 2006 and 2011, but that number has been increased to 47,500 since the movie was released at Cannes early last year.
What makes this film so mesmerizing is the powerful way that the events are filmed and makes you believe you are actually handcuffed to a 23 year old beauty pageant contestant as she is taken through her ordeal. The film is told completely from her point of view as she suddenly finds herself in the middle of a war zone when a drug cartel makes a hit on people at a party that she happens to be attending with her friend.
The camera never stops filming as we see how the leader of the cartel, Lino, takes a liking to her and spares her life as he uses her to his advantage during some harrowing and surreal circumstances. Because the movie is filmed like a documentary we feel as disoriented and anxious as she does, as she is thrust into the scariest situations, never knowing who to believe or what is happening.
It makes for a powerful experience as we are shown the inner workings and depraved tactics of drug lords and the police who make deals with some cartels as they fight others. Like a documentary, there is no sound track, making it even more unnerving. The role of the young woman, named Laura Guerrero, played by Stephanie Sigman, is excellently portrayed with just the right amount of inner strength and vulnerability to be totally believable, not going too far in either direction. I will not be surprised if her performance in this film gives her career a huge boost. Lino, played by Noe Hernandez, is so convincing as the cartel leader and has such a menacing and lifeless expression that you cannot help but feel as if you’re looking at the real thing.
Miss Bala screened at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) last year and was extremely well praised for its realistic depiction of a brutal war that’s out of control, consuming everyone in its path, and showing no sign of ending. This movie is all about the performances and the ‘you-are-there’ documentary filming style and will leave you in a state of shock.
In the middle of the film, a beauty pageant host asks Laura what she desires most, fame or money, but Laura is unable to answer after the experiences she has been forced to endure. Her quest for fame in the pageant and Lino’s quest for money has left both of them lifeless and the country full of fear.