"I can help you, Laura. But I need you to do something for me."
Somewhere along the way, drugs and its distribution became a running joke, as films like SUPER TROOPERS and PINEAPPLE EXPRESS seem to trivialize dealers and their business. MISS BALA is not that movie. Told through the eyes of Laura Guerrero (stunning newcomer Stephanie Sigman), BALA details Laura and her hope to become the next Miss Baja, during her city's yearly beauty pageant.
After earning a spot in the contest, a night of celebration quickly turns to peril as the club her and her friend Suzu are attending is riddled by gunfire. She escapes with her life, but quickly is entangled in the dealings of the local cartel, led by the execrable Lino (Noe Hernandez).
Director Gerardo Naranjo enables the camera to follow Laura as if it's her shadow, giving the audience an uneasy presence into her goings-on. Joined by her father and brother Arturo, the three sell clothes for a living. This is the only hint we have at her past, and is the reason she gives for wanting to audition for the pageant. Her family is soon hostage to Lino's plans, prompting Laura to join, albeit reluctantly, in with the dealer's scheme.
BALA is loosely based on the real life incident of 2008's Miss Sinaloa, Laura Zúñiga, who was found to be associated with suspected gang members. Zúñiga and seven others were arrested after a van filled with munitions was found outside Guadalajara, Jalisco. The story became an international feature, with Mexican newspapers calling her 'Miss Narco.' Time magazine also ran a piece.
Sigman's lithe frame embodies fragility. Throughout the film, she's in constant states of undress, highlighting why she's an ideal candidate for both the pageantry and Lino's organization. Sigman possesses a beautiful innocence that encapsulates every scene. Words are not needed; her facial expressions sublimely serve to clarify all questions.
Bala translates literally to 'bullet;' a fitting conversion. Since 2006, close to fifty-thousand lives have been lost during Mexico's war on drugs. The body count isn't as high during the film's nearly two-hour running time, but the violence still proves palpable. MISS BALA is a sobering, honest tale of a society foreign to us in both its actions and inhabitants. Laura's every attempt to elude her captors, seems only to spiral her further into an inescapable prison. Her despair is demoralizing, but no less absorbing.