Action Drama

Review: ‘Miss Bala’ is a Hollow Remake Saved by Strong Performances

February 1, 2019Ferdosa Abdi

A fast-paced and sharp action-thriller with bold performances from Gina Rodriguez and Ismael Cruz Córdova, Miss Bala is an English-language remake of the 2011 Spanish-language film of the same name from Gerardo Naranjo. But while the movie in many ways attempts to replicate the original, it doesn't quite hit the mark as well.

Naranjo's film was not your typical action-thriller that centered on a Mexican cartel; it was a closer look at the horrors an innocent woman most endure when she accidentally finds herself in the crossfire. In many respects, it played like a horror movie — complete with a final girl who must adapt to survive — and though director Catherine Hardwicke's version doesn't hit as hard, it still accomplishes the same task of getting us into the mindset of the innocent people trapped in a game they know very little about.

Rodriguez's Gloria is put through the similar trials and tribulations as Stephanie Sigman's Laura in the original. As a woman who is always playing catch-up when she unwittingly becomes a drug mule and weapons trafficker for Lino (the charming Córdova), Rodriguez does a brilliant job playing someone who is forced to overcome her fears and fight to save her best friend Suzu (Cristina Rodlo) and survive. Perhaps the most compelling aspects of Rodriguez's performance, however, involve watching her harden as she passes the days as a captive of Lino's. The character is also reworked into some form of action heroine — an admirable change, but one that doesn't always fit tonally.

Córdova's Lino is the typical gang leader with some noble intentions. The most upsetting missed opportunity is the lack of screen time spent delving deeper into Lino's backstory and discovering how he became entrapped in this war. Although there are some scenes that allow for Lino to express himself, there isn't enough to craft a fully realized character. Córdova's wildly charismatic presence almost begs for an origin story of sorts for Lino, but this is Gloria's journey we are on.

Hardwicke's direction is glossy and bright — perhaps an odd choice considering the dire situations Gloria finds herself in. However, this is the nature of many Hollywood remakes, and she and cinematographer Patrick Murguia do a stunning job capturing the beauty of Mexico, despite so many horrendous events occurring.

Likewise, Hardwicke does as much as she can with Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer's script, which fails to capture what made the original effective. The deviations in many respects undercut what Naranjo intended with his film, and it steers this version in the same direction as all those other English remakes that feel hollow. In the end, though, the assured direction and the strong performances from the leads overcome this obstacle and save Miss Bala from feeling meandering and shallow.

Miss Bala releases February 1st, 2019 from Sony Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for sequences of gun violence, sexual and drug content, thematic material, and language. Its runtime is 1 hr. 44 min.

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