Review for Miss Bala (2011)

8 / 10

Miss Bala (2011) focusses on the story of a young Mexican woman, Laura Guerrero, who holds the dream of becoming a national beauty contest winner. Shortly after enrolling on a national beauty pageant contest, Laura's friend goes missing and whilst she frantically tries to locate her, she gets caught up in Mexico's ruthless underworld.

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Initially released at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and then showed for the first time in the UK, during the recent London Film Festival, Miss Bala has garnered much critical acclaim. It is perhaps quite easy to see why for numerous reasons, not least because the film's director, Gerardo Naranjo presents us with an ambitious and visually striking feature, which will undoubtedly kick up discussions and debates between those who have seen the film. 

From the early stages of the film, up until its despondent closure (or rather lack of), Naranjo opts to employ a fundamental narrative device (film's protagonist Laura Guerrero), to depict the conflict between the merciless Mexican gangsters/drug cartels and the US Drug Enforcement Agency. That the narrative is shown through Laura's perspective is significant, because we begin to understand what it is to be like, unfairly abused and exploited, whilst caught up in the crossfire between the two warring agents. Stylistically, this is reinforced throughout the film by Naranjo's choice to often shoot behind Laura, which perhaps gives us the impression of what it is to be like in this strange, and often unrelenting world. 
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What is also interesting about Naranjo's thriller is that, unlike most conventional thrillers, there is a noticeable absence of explicit violence throughout the majority of the film. For example, in an early sequence in which armed gunmen stealthily invade a gangland disco and brutally massacre the dancers by gunning them down, we do not see the actual bloodbath take place. Rather, Naranjo chooses to amplify gunshot sounds, show chaos within the disco and then in the aftermath, show the gunmen dump corpses into the vehicles left outside. Furthermore, Naranjo presents the first explicit action set-piece after approximately 70 minutes of the film have elapsed; a hellish vignette in which Laura is relentlessly caught up in the sustained barrage between the Mexican drug cartels and the police.

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The film's editing is sharp and the cinematography is effective in framing spaces in which Laura's plight is accentuated. Miss Bala also possesses a swift narrative pace, which effectively functions to reflect the brisk operations of the drug cartels to evade the police.

Miss Bala
is a fine Mexican thriller, which I had the privilege of watching on the big-screen recently, and I was particularly gripped by Laura's predicament throughout the film. What I also liked about the film, was that Naranjo, as previously mentioned, essentially projected the conflict between the Mexican drug cartels and the US Drug Enforcement Agency, through the character of Laura. Whilst Miss Bala does not strictly follow conventions of the typical cinematic thriller, Naranjo has undoubtedly created a striking feature which will keep one immersed, until the desolate ending.

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