The film is spellbinding and provocative, with none of Hollywood's usual easy answers to brutality
Eniac Mart’nez Ulloa/HOEP/Fox International Productions/AP
When the ambitious Mexican film “Miss Bala” made its Mexican debut last September, more than one local newspaper article questioned whether the film should have been made at all. Indeed, the latest project from director Gerardo Naranjo ("I’m Gonna Explode") is an uncomfortable and horrifying journey into the grit and brutality of the country’s cartel-fueled violence, a journey devoid of the neatly packaged shoot-‘em-up heroics typical of Hollywood’s action flicks. It’s dark stuff. But Naranjo’s unapologetically ruthless interpretation is also what makes his newest statement piece both spellbinding and provocative.
“Miss Bala” roughly translates to Miss Bullet, a cunning reference to both the main protagonist, unlikely Baja beauty queen Laura Guerrero (played by the model-turned-actress Stephanie Sigman), and the entrenched violence of the region. Subtitles spell out that cartel violence has killed more than 36,000 people since 2006. It’s telling, however, that in the short interim between the film’s production and US distribution, that tally has swelled to more than 47,000; some critics warn even that number could be too low.