Saturday, May 5, 2012


Every have, like, a really bad 48 hours? I'll bet the protagonist, Laura Guerrero, of late 2011's Mexican film "MISS BALA" has it all over you. Let's see - she watches her best friend's murder by a ruthless drug cartel; is quickly kidnapped by that same cartel and turned into a drug runner for them; sees the cartel threaten her father and brother with huge machine guns; is tackled hard by an American DEA agent in her few moments of freedom; is raped by the cartel's leader; escapes hails of gunfire on numerous occasions; and is sent to murder Mexico's top general. During this same two-day period she also, as a first-time novice entrant, wins Baja California's "Miss Baja" beauty contest in a blatant fix by the cartel to reward her for her forced cooperation under duress. Yeah, it's a pretty rough go for Laura. I won't complain so much at the office anymore.

This film is based on actual events from 2008 in the Sinaloa region of Mexico. It's a bleak world that brings the south of the border headlines north and into a realistic, depressing and pulse-racing tableau. The cops, as we know, are easily bought; and the gangs themselves spend half of their time shooting each other and the other half shooting and maiming the cops who can't be bought (yet). For the Mexicans caught in the middle, like Laura, life must truly be an existential hell much of the time - even if you're not being kidnapped and forced into crime yourself. This is the part that's so hard to square with what we've been reading about Mexico for the past half decade. What would you do? Cooperate? Leave? Simply keep your head down?

So how's the film? I think it's OK. I didn't get the all-enveloping sense of metaphorical suffocation that I sometimes like to get from films like "21 Grams", although this is certainly a different sort of picture. It moves quickly, despite many long wordless scenes, and Laura, a very likable character, is always one second away from horrific violence either inflicted on her or displayed in front of her. So you're invested in her early on - an innocent young woman who takes care of her preteen brother and dad and flirts around with beauty contests while staying away from unsavory men, unlike her best friend. What's missing is hard to lay a finger on, but at its end I didn't feel wiped out the way an intense film often clears the mental slate for me. I said, "Oh, it's done" and headed off to slumber. Just a good 'ol Mexican drug cartel kidnap-n-murder movie!