Miss Bala (2011)

Gerardo Naranjo’s Mexican crime-drama has its heart in the right place, but it’s occasionally muddled and confusing to the point of distraction. It’s a damn shame too, because Naranjo’s camera captures an underground world of corruption and ever-present danger with a sharp, cinema-verite aesthetic that hurls the viewer into the action in real time. It adds an urgency to the proceedings while the narrative is propelled forward by the plot’s merciless pace, and the looming, omnipresent threat of violence gradually becomes downright claustrophobic and oppressive. However, it’s sometimes hard to follow some of the plot’s developments because information is often rationed via quick glimpses or headlines that can easily be missed, and the effect is disorienting because the viewer has to catch up nearly constantly. Stephanie Sigman is excellent as Laura, an aspiring beauty pageant contestant who gets caught in an ever-worsening drug cartel battle, although she’s short-changed by a screenplay that can effectively set up compelling ethical conflicts in the middle of tense set pieces but stumbles at meaningful character development.

Rating: ★★★ (out of 5)

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