Movie Review: Miss Bala

As a big Gina Rodriguez fan, it felt like my duty to go see her latest movie, Miss Bala. This is one of those movies that I never would’ve jumped to see if it didn’t have an actress I liked in it, but I figured I’d give it a try to see if Rodriguez lived up to my expectations. After all, the trailer promised me a badass woman of color defying the odds to save her best friend, so even if the movie wasn’t great, it would hopefully be a cool feminist flick.

Directed by Catherine Hardwicke (plus one for a female director!), Miss Bala is an action-thriller remake of a Mexican film. Rodriguez plays Gloria, a makeup artist visiting her friend Suzu (Cristina Rodlo) in Mexico. While the two are at a nightclub, a gang fires shots into the crowd while they are on a mission to kill a corrupt politician. After Suzu goes missing during the chaos, Gloria seeks the help of a local police officer, but he instead hands her over to the gang from the nightclub. The gang leader, Lino (Ismael Cruz Córdova), keeps Gloria in the custody of the gang and decides to use her to do the gang’s bidding in exchange for helping her find Suzu. Gloria becomes wrapped in a scheme that tests her morals and her loyalty, questioning how far she will go to survive and save Suzu.

For me, the acting was the best part of this film. Rodriguez has proved herself in action movies before, like Annihilation. She did a good job at portraying the dilemma between survival and keeping your morals, and I like that she didn’t jump into becoming a full-fledged heroine. After all, she started the movie as your average working woman, definitely not someone who would be ready to pick up a gun and work in a gang. While I wasn’t familiar with Córdova’s work before this movie, I think he’s definitely someone to look out for. He nailed the task of being the violent, yet (sometimes) oddly charming leader.

However, there were parts of this movie that could have definitely been improved. For starters, it seemed really set on wanting Gloria to be the only woman in the gang so that her transition to becoming a badass would be even more striking. But was it too much to ask for any women in the gang? About halfway through, the audience is introduced to a gang member’s girlfriend who’s sort of in the gang, but she pretty much just cooks for them. After that, her screen time is very minimal. While this is meant to be a violent movie, I questioned whether it was really necessary that all the female characters are kidnapped, tortured, or killed. At least throw me some woman in the background who shoots stuff.

Without going into too much detail, things don’t get really exciting and empowering for Gloria until the last twenty minutes of the film. She spends most of the time leading up to the conclusion being bossed around and mistreated by men. Again, this is pretty much to be expected after she is held hostage by a gang. It wouldn’t be realistic if she suddenly became a full-fledged action movie queen. However, it feels pretty telling when most of the trailer is just the last twenty minutes of the movie. Would it really be impossible to ask for Gloria to have at least a few moments of agency earlier in the film? While the ending is pretty exciting and has some good payoff, I feel like we definitely could’ve gotten more out of Gloria’s character before that.

All in all, this was a fun movie and I don’t feel bad about seeing it. However, don’t expect this movie to transform the future of action movies. It’s a relatively entertaining way to spend two hours, but you’re not going to miss out on much if you decide to skip this one.