Review: ‘Miss Bala’ (2019)

Miss Bala final one-sheet poster

Miss Bala | Catherine Hardwicke | February 1, 2019

In 2011, Gerardo Naranjo’s Miss Bala received positive acclaim during its run at film festivals and was selected as Mexico’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars at the following year. Despite this modest success, it wasn’t the most obvious film to be remade for the good old Hollywood treatment, but here we are.

Miss Bala still - Ismael Cruz Córdova taping fake money to Gina Rodriguez

Director Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen, Twilight, Lords of Dogtown) helms this English remake of Naranjo’s film, keeping the main framework of the original but changing enough where this can be distinctly distinguished as the version Hollywood thinks you want to see. In other words, it takes the easy way out and suffers the consequences as a result.

Gloria Fuentes (Annihilation and Jane The Virgin‘s Gina Rodriguez) is a makeup artist from Los Angeles who visits her best friend Suzu (Cristina Rodlo) in Tijuana, Mexico. They go out for a night of partying at a club and have the misfortune of crossing paths with a group of armed gunmen who have their sights on the Chief of Police who is also at the club – the wrong place at the wrong time.

Miss Bala still - Gina Rodriguez rescuing Ismael Cruz Córdova

The boss of the gang, Lino (Mary Queen of Scots‘ Ismael Cruz Córdova), spares Gloria but she can’t find Suzu and in a panic asks the police for help, but is quickly dragged back into Lino’s slippery web, who isn’t happy that she went to the police. He decides to use this unsuspecting American woman to help carry out his gang plans. She soon learns such how corrupt everyone is in this world and isn’t sure who she can trust to help her find her friend and get out of this mess alive.

The original film took a thoughtful and patient look at the seedy and dangerous levels of corruption that result from this drug war. Its message was clear that the war didn’t just affect the drug cartels and corrupt police officials, but the innocent people that get dragged into the mess and are victimized along the way.

Miss Bala still - Gina Rodriguez at a party

Hardwicke’s film seems to just skim over these messages, treating them as mere afterthoughts in service of more Hollywood friendly ideas and explanations, and of course, a big action finale with the protagonist, who of course they couldn’t help but turn into an action heroine by its ridiculous conclusion with all the ends tied up nice and neatly with a big bowtie for good measure.

It’s clear that Gina Rodriguez is a breakout star in the making, but it’s too bad that her first leading silver screen opportunity comes here. She does all that she can in the role, but even she isn’t enough to save it. Ismael Cruz Córdova is fine as the villain but doesn’t do anything new with it to help you forget that it’s the sort of character that you’ve seen 100 times by now. Anthony Mackie has two brief appearances that ultimately result in nothing except the audience (and likely Mackie too) wondering how he got dragged into this mess.

Miss Bala still - Anthony Mackie as a gang member

It’s a shame as this film could have had been timely in today’s political climate if it had something to say. But it ultimately dumbs things down for its audience, resulting in a film that is best left completely ignored. While the original isn’t perfect, it had artistic merit and courage, two things that I can’t say about this version.

Rating: 4.0/10