Wednesday, January 4, 2012
These year-end lists are usually packed with titles that reach for some message of grand social significance, but few of those films take the trouble to be as thrillingly executed as Gerardo Naranjo's Miss Bala. Setting aside social relevance - and Miss Bala has loads of it - this movie is some of the best crackerjack entertainment I experienced all year. The ride is so utterly absorbing that Naranjo can take the viewer on a horrifying tour of Mexico's insane, corrupt drug wars without ever resorting to preachy message movie didacticism.
The story of an innocent would-be beauty queen getting pulled against her will into the service of a drug cartel, Miss Bala turns many of the conventions of the crime thriller on their head. Rather than laying out the situation and watching as our plucky heroine uses her wits to extricate herself, Bala plunges right into the center of action and lets us share the confusion of its lead character. For large stretches of the film Naranjo is content to rest his camera on star Stephanie Sigman (an engaging, natural screen presence) and watch in beautifully orchestrated unbroken tracking shots as violence swirls around her. Just like the like the protagonist, we know little of the reason or goals for all the destruction, although when belated explanations do arrive they are devastating.
One might guess this disorientation would alienate an audience but Naranjo's hand at the helm is so assured it only serves to absorb us deeper into the story. Miss Bala is one of those movies where you find yourself leaning forward in your seat, completely involved.
Previously on the Countdown
- The Runners Up