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  • I'm an Englishman who has lived seven years in Mexico. I disagree completely with the previous review. I thought this was a remarkable film and scary in what, to me, appears to be a realistic, credible depiction of life in Tijuana. I thought the main actress was exceptional in the way she allows us to view the film through her eyes and shows her increasing trauma and dislocation as she is drawn more and more against her will into the dark world of organized crime, the police, the army and their overlaps. To me the film shows the terrible loss of innocence and the violence that is being perpetrated every day in Mexico against the Mexican people as exemplified and represented by the main character.
  • This is the story of a 23 year old girl from Tijuana named Laura who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and gets involved involuntarily with a drug lord who forces her to take part in his criminal activities for the following days.

    There are two things that really surprised me while watching this film. The first is the directing style, quite unusual but with a purpose I must say: a lot of panning, traveling and sequence shots, to give a certain sense of a documentary type of film. In many scenes, the director lets the camera still with the main character while we only "hear" what's going on around her and also a slow paced direction to allow the viewer get a more personal approach to the main character and what she is going through (I believe). The second one is how realistic it all seems, the language, the characters, the locations and especially a shooting scene between cops and narcos that is just breathtaking.

    Of course this wouldn't work so well if the acting wasn't first class, and it is indeed, Stephanie Sigman what a fantastic job, really makes us care for the character.

    Like "El Infierno", it reflects a sad reality of what Mexico is currently going through with the fight against drug trafficking, and it isn't pretty at all. However I consider this little gem an essential viewing for movie fans and even film students. Highly recommended.
  • Beware of those viewers who really just want to see another Femme Nikita or something similar with non-stop unrealistic action led by a pretty babe.

    Miss Bala isn't like that. (Dumb title though. Why not just keep Miss Baja? Are they afraid we gringos can't handle that name?) This film is about the way innocent Mexicans are caught up in the narco wars when they're just trying to live their own dreams.

    In addition to the strong theme, the movie works because the story does more than carry thematic resonance -- there's suspense (which requires patience that the video-gaming generation may not be able to muster) and a very sympathetic central character. No, she's not always active, but she is reactive; she isn't just passively passing through this story. We care about her because she has a dream that has been sullied, because she cares about others (her friend Zuzu and her brother), and because, even after she's been abused, she's willing to take a risk at the end to prevent a murder.

    Add all this to a well-shot movie with an unusual but effective mise-en-scenes in many of the beats and very scary bad guys, and, well, the sum of it all is a very strong movie.

    By the way, there are no continuity lapses in the story and the finale makes sense -- but again, it's going to take some thinking. This movie is not an American action pic -- there's more thought behind it, and more thought needed to digest it.
  • One of the most exciting young talents around, the Mexican director Gerardo Naranjo approaches the hot-button topic of drug violence through the perspective of an unlikely, unwitting heroine: a Tijuana beauty pageant contestant (Stephanie Sigman) who stumbles into the path of ruthless cartel operatives and corrupt officials. Although inspired by a true story, Miss Bala avoids docudrama clichés and tabloid sensationalism, and instead evokes the pervasive climate of fear and confusion that has enveloped daily life in some increasingly lawless pockets of northern Mexico. Using long takes and fluid, precise camera work, Naranjo fashions a highly original thriller: an anguished and harrowing mood piece with an undertow of bleakly absurdist humor and moments of heart-stopping action. A Fox International Productions release.
  • This is a dramatic, creepy, draggingly real and touching good watch. Technically this movie impresses, with solid acting and location shooting, in a fresh way to make you feel a part of the struggles.

    This Latin America film is low-key, being removed from Hollywood formulas like modern foreign cinematography, being unusual, distinct and intense. It's independence makes it, with memorable ground-shots and a patience requiring build up to the horror expected.

    Miss Bala, tells the mostly believable tale of a beauty queen who survives an event shoot-out and thus has to evade the criminals, as she is the lobe eye-witness. Yanked into a world of crime, Stephanie Sigman survives, with little fight back, playing a usual male role in a drug war thriller.

    I enjoyed the film but critics have diluted it's good points with negative criticism over the acting and premise of a modern world cinema piece.
  • MISS BALA is a strong film from Mexico (apparently based on a true account of the unending drug war focused in Tijuana produced by actors Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna and James Russo who has a role in the film as a corrupt DEA agent) - a film that is unafraid to uncover the ruthless activities by the drug cartels, the Mexican police, and the US DEA agents in the endless battle against drug trafficking. It hits like a punch in the stomach and remains in the memory long after the credits have rolled.

    Laura Guerrero (Stephanie Sigman) dreams of being a beauty queen in the Miss Baja California Beauty Pageant, a position that will raise her out of her meager existence as a dress maker in the outskirts of Tijuana where she lives with her little brother and father. She and her best friend Zuzu work their way into the line of women vying for the contest title. After winning entry into the pageant Laura reluctantly agrees to go to a sleazy nightclub with Zuzu. In the club's toilets she witnesses the covert entry of an organized drugs cartel led by Lino Valdez (Noe Hernandez). Lino is finds Laura to be attractive and smart, and allows her to escape. However, when Laura reports her missing friend Zuzu to a corrupt Mexican police officer, she finds herself delivered back into the hands of Lino, and entangled ever deeper in a vicious drugs war. She is used as a mule to transport drug money across the border, returning to full fledged gang war. Lino uses her physically and then keeps his promise to have her crowned Miss Baja California, but the title and the events that follow lead to horrors and alienation Laura never dreamed possible.

    Writers Mauricio Katz and writer/director Gerardo Naranjo push this expose of just how all consuming the drug traffic problem is at the border. It is terrifying and though Laura seems to be a helpless obeying victim throughout the tale, she represents just how futile it must be to attempt to stand against the atrocious crimes being committed. The power of the film is its willingness to show that both side of the war on drugs - gangs, police, DEA agents, and population - are at fault for allowing this outrage to continue. But business is business and the film hints at how hopeless the situation is. Stephanie Sigman emerges as an actress of importance and her part in this film will remain indelibly burned on the minds of the viewers. We should all see this film.

    Grady Harp
  • The story of a young woman (Stephanie Sigman) clinging on to her dream to become a beauty contest queen in a Mexico dominated by organized crime.

    Living in Wisconsin, I know precious little about the Mexican border. But I have written articles on foreign policy and how America's decisions have affected the gangs of Mexico. This film showcases some of that, focusing on the darkest possible angle.

    Actress Stephanie Sigman is incredible, having to be a very visual actress in this film: we see her silently cringing or running from gunfire more than she speaks. But I think that this may be harder than just delivering dialogue: her character is kidnapped by gangsters, forced to commit criminal acts, constantly being faced with the possibility of death.

    While the gangsters here are ruthless, and rightfully so, there was a political point being made that did not escape me: the presence of DEA agents in Mexico. Whether or not you support the war on drugs, there is good reason to question how American police can patrol the streets of Mexico. Do Mexican federales drive around El Paso? I think not. Their presence does not justify the violence from the gangs, but it does raise the question of why a foreign power is facing a domestic problem.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    MISS BALA (2012) *** Riveting drama about a young Mexican woman (sexy newcomer and Rosario Dawson doppelganger Stephanie Sigman in a fine big-screen debut) whose ambition to be a contestant in a beauty contest instead finds herself unavoidably thrust into a drug cartel's blood feud as an unwitting pawn and her inescapable predicament leads to dire life or death consequences. Based on a true account of the unending drug war South-of-the-Border and produced by actors Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna (and co-star James Russo as a corrupt DEA agent), novice filmmaker Gerardo Naranjo certainly has the cinematic chops as a director with some ingenious camera movements and eliciting a heartbreaking performance from his equally green partner-in-crime leading lady.
  • Mexican screenwriter, producer and director Gerardo Naranjo's fourth feature film which he co-wrote with screenwriter Mauricio Katz, is inspired by real events in the life of a Mexican model and beauty pageant winner named Láura Zúñiga. It premiered in the Un Certain Regard section at the 64th Cannes International Film Festival in 2011, was shot on locations in Mexico and is a Mexican production which was produced by producer Pablo Cruz. It tells the story about a 23-year-old woman named Laura Guerrero who lives with her father and younger brother Artoruro in the state of Tijuana, Bala California in Mexico. Laura enters a beauty contest called Miss Baja California with her friend Jessica at a place called Millennium, but whilst they are getting ready to go home a group of organized criminals surrounds the building.

    Distinctly and brilliantly directed by Mexican filmmaker Gerardo Naranjo, this finely paced fictional tale which is narrated almost entirely from the main character's point of view, draws an instantly moving portrayal of a Mexican woman who unwillingly gets pulled into a drug trafficking war. While notable for its naturalistic milieu depictions, fine art direction by art director Ivonne Fuentes, sterling cinematography by cinematographer Matyas Erdely and use of sound, this character-driven and narrative-driven story depicts a somewhat sparse and engaging study of character.

    This at times riveting action-drama which is set in in the westernmost city of Mexico in the early 21st century during an ongoing drug war between rivalling drug cartels and Mexican government forces and where a woman who wishes to win a contest so that she can give her brother a good education is taken hostage, is impelled and reinforced by its cogent narrative structure, substantial character development, prominent style of filmmaking and the fine and understated acting performance by Mexican actress Stephanie Sigman. An eloquent, stylistic and dramatic thriller.
  • There is one sequence in Miss Bala, where beauty queen wannabee Laura is taken from a torrid gun battle seamlessly into the beauty pageant where she changes and, still in shock, appears on stage with the other contestants. It is a moment of surreal genius. The film is a polemic, indicting the corruption and lack of moral fibre that infects Mexico's battle with drug gangs. Much has been made about the authenticity of the film's representation of that situation. Anyone looking to inform themselves of the socio-political situation with regard to Mexico and drugs should start somewhere other than a film. A film's first priority is to provide gripping narrative. Miss Bala has great moments, like the one described above, but at its heart it is the story of a woman caught up inadvertently in a dangerous, absurd situation. She is a victim from start to finish. Personally, I like the protagonist of a film to do something, rather than be continually done to. Laura is taken on a ride, and it is a helluva ride. But she is a passenger, and I wanted her to take the wheel at some point.

    And for that reason, the film is visually inventive, occasionally comic and sometimes sad, but on the whole emotionally flat.
  • I like foreign language films and this is right up there as one which can be enjoyed from beginning to end. It is a Mexican film in Spanish language with perfect subtitles in English on DVD.

    The story is of course about a young girl called Laura who has a dream of becoming a Beauty queen while also being a story about how she gets caught up and used in a drugs war.

    There is no doubt that Laura is portrayed as a very stubborn character and is presented with opportunities to escape from her dangerous situations but she is possessed of fear what might happen to her Father and Brother.

    She has seen that the Mexican police could not be trusted, so who could she trust? The film also illustrates how a drug cartel might also influence the outcome of a Beauty pageant to instill fear and control over one of its participants.

    Yes it is a little depressing but a riveting drama thriller to watch. Considering the subject matter, there is nothing graphically sexual and no outlandish bad language, there are a couple of sex scenes but the filming generally is carefully considered and respectable.
  • rmax30482313 December 2012
    Warning: Spoilers
    It reminds me a little of "Traffic," also about drugs and smuggling between Mexico and the US, only here the point of view is limited to that of Stephanie Sigman, as Laura Guerrero, who by happenstance wins the crown of Miss Baja, even while she has been kidnapped and used by a drug gang, La Estrella. (I wonder if there was any irony intended.) I understand this was "ripped from the headlines" or "based on a true story" but that rarely means much. Real life is confusing and full of adventitiousness. It's murky. Half the time we don't know what the hell is going on. Maybe that's why this film limits itself to Sigman's point of view. Several scenes are shot that way. The camera follows her around. She's in just about every scene. We get to know only what Stephanie Sigman's character knows. The audience is forced to identify with this innocent young woman, just as it was forced to identify with Janet Leigh in "Psycho."

    Briefly, Sigman tries to enter a beauty contest and attends a party in which a drug gang commits a kind of massacre. The gang captures her and thereafter she's their slave, forced to smuggle money into the US, subject to all sorts of sexual abuse, which is muted in the film. The gang know who she is, where she lives, and who is in her family. There's nothing much she can do. A gang leader drives her out into the desert, gives her some money, and tells her she can leave. "Just walk straight ahead and sooner or later you'll come to someplace. Just don't contact anyone you know, and don't ever go home." She doesn't leave. Would any of us? Sigman -- well, one can easily see how she might win a beauty contest. (They're as phony in Mexico as they are here, and they provide the only semi-comic moments in the film because they're such an easy target.) Sigman isn't a stunning beauty, but she's attractive enough and has a flawless figure. Catalina Sandina Moreno was attractive too, in the superior "Maria, Full of Grace."

    As the central figure, Sigman must carry the movie. Maybe she could have but the role is written with only one dimension possible. The young woman hardly has any lines because she's afraid to speak up. She's constantly baffled and terrified, and though it doesn't give the actress a chance to do much, it's understandable. She an unwilling witness to several shoot outs and a couple of really brutal murders. She walks through the movie with her mouth open and her head down. At that, it's an improvement over most of the commercial tripe being ground out in Hollywood.

    I've spent some time in Mexico, including Tijuana, some years ago but I don't think I'd do it again. The general impression I've gotten -- and not just from this movie -- is that the country and some of the border cities in the USA are beginning to resemble a Hobbesian world of all against all. Very little is what it seems to be. When Sigman is "captured" (after saving the life of a high-echelon anti-drug personage), the media trumpet the death of the gang members and the capture of Sigman, who is now considered a lawless bandit herself. But she's not sent to prison. After the police beat her, she's thrown out on the street.

    The heart sinks -- for her, for us, for a civilization whose center cannot hold.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Miss Bala tries to deal with one type of the social "collateral damage" of the ongoing Mexican war on drugs: people who are unwillingly thrown into the battle. An interesting premise.

    The film starts well, as a beauty queen wannabe gets stuck in the wrong place at the wrong moment, and becomes involved with a gang after making a series of naive and very stupid decisions.

    The depiction of violence and corruption is very good in this part, without resorting to the stereotypes of alleged miserable lives. The narcos' communication system as they drive their trucks rings very true.

    But after a while, Miss Bala goes down the slope into a crash landing. The main character ends up being an unpaid slave to the narco boss, without ever showing the minimum sign of rebellion and never really having a moment of joy. The reasons behind the narco moves become more and more incoherent, as does the activity of DEA agents and police forces. The last shootout lacks any logic. The director's sense of timing gets lost and the whole film becomes a blurry mess. Loopholes abound in the script.

    Perhaps the authors wanted the main character to be totally passive, but by doing this, they portray her as a person without attributes, without real dreams (it seems she didn't even care about being Miss Baja), without true emotions or feelings. Was she a lost dog or a zombie? The acting leads to the second opinion.

    Finally, the movie sends a message of hopelessness. It depicts a society of stupid cowards and puppets ruled by criminals and corrupt officials with no way out. I find it odd that it was publicly financed.
  • mrojoa13 September 2011
    I am from Mexico so my view is both influenced for better or for worse. In my opinion, the movie lacks sequential logic and bad management of times. The long pauses that want to give a strong effect tend to be overused and boring. In the reality check, i think the movie just takes advantage of a similar case of Miss Sinaloa 2009, when she was detained with drug lords and the very hurtful situation in Mexico which is the violence. It incorrectly portrays a Mexico that is suffering a fight between drug cartels that are fueled by the US drug consumption. Some scenarios are very real and a reality in some cities but the hotel scene is absurd. The DEA agent where they take something from her in front of her house is also absurd. I felt that the movie is only trying to capitalize on a delicate theme that is in every Mexican as a first concern. Even the acting of the lead female lacks any quality, has just a few dialogs and irrational actions. I was looking forward to this film but greatly disappointed.
  • I gave this film a 7 instead of a 6 because, despite its late half problems, the film is quite watchable and absorbing...if not somewhat enigmatic. Laura is an ordinary Mexican girl who wants to cash in on her looks by becoming Miss Baja Mexico. Unfortunately, an outing with a friend at a popular club propels her into the midst of a drug cartel war where she is ultimately and easily taken hostage (thanks to a corrupt system) and then forced to involve herself in a string of illegal activities.

    Where this film begins to falter is with the personality of Laura. She sort of becomes an Elizabeth Smart, the young girl in Utah who was kidnapped from her home and forced to live with her captors and who, despite several good opportunities, never made an effort to escape or resist. Laura's passivity is distracting as we wonder what's wrong with her--is she shell- shocked, does she have Stockholm syndrome, is she just stupid? The director tries to convince us that her motivation to do as she's told comes from her desire to protect her little brother from any retaliatory flak that might come from her disobedience...but you never get the idea that she's being threatened in that way, especially in the last half of the film.

    I immediately thought of Maria, Full of Grace when I watched Miss Bala--a much better film about a young girl's involvement with the drug trade, with a solidly built narrative.
  • SnoopyStyle26 November 2015
    Good girl Laura Guerro and her friend Suzu enter and qualify for the Miss Baja pageant. Laura is waiting for Suzu at a nightclub when a drug gang breaks in to kill the drug enforcement cops. She escapes from the massacre and tries to find Suzu. She seeks help from a cop but he calls in a gang who kidnaps her. The gangleader takes an interest in her and makes her compete in the pageant. He kidnaps her father and little brother pulling her further into the crime family.

    This is a wild crazy crime drama. This movie is nuts. One really feels for Laura. I wish she has a drug gang watchdog on her for the whole movie. She needs another person to build a relationship, have conversations and to interact with. Her character needs to show more struggle. Of course, the gang has her in complete control. The only way for her to show some spark is through some dialog with another person. That's the main thing missing here.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    A really good hard-hitting portrayal of the Mexican drugs war.

    What is original about this movie is that it doesn't portray events from the inside. It is presented from the perspective of an outsider - a beauty show contestant - who unwittingly gets caught up in the violence.

    We see everything from her point of view - how she is used and how she is taken pity on, how she tries to make the right decisions and how often she doesn't have any decisions, how she understands and yet doesn't understand what is happening to her.

    In some ways it is frustrating to watch, because you can't always understand who the characters are and why they are fighting each other. But I suppose that's the partly the point.

    Fundamentally, it is an uplifting tale. It presents the determination and resilience of a woman against the forces of violent crime. How it works out for her is kind of beside the point.

    A clever and commendable movie.
  • A very engaging movie. It is a rather strange presentation. You know exactly what is happening but yet have no idea what is going on. That is to say the story itself, if not known before hand, is generally obvious throughout and by the end. Yet the main character Laura is never made clear what her actual involvement is. Why she is doing what she is doing. Her connection to the series of events is often confusing. I enjoyed the movie but it could have used some serious continuity improvement. Why do I have to have 10 lines? This makes ten. This makes eleven. How many more do they need? This now makes fourteen by my count.
  • cat_ranchero1 October 2012
    A damning indictment on the drugs trade in Mexico, this film highlights the plight of many that fall into the clutches of these gangs. I did enjoy the rough and ready style of filming; you really felt you were right in the heart of the action… maybe a little too close at times! Although I enjoyed it I did feel it was lacking a certain something. I think it was a sense of menace from the gang leader, Lino; he just didn't seem to have enough malice about him to make Laura fear him so much. Maybe I'm wrong but that's how I saw it. Over all though a film that's well worth a look (if you can do battle with the subtitles).

    SteelMonster's verdict: RECOMMENDED

    My score: 6.9/10

    You can find an expanded version of this review on my blog: Thoughts of a SteelMonster.
  • zetes6 January 2013
    A terrifying descent into Hell. Stephanie Sigman stars as a 23 year-old woman who enters the Miss Baja California beauty pageant in her hometown of Tijuana. Apparently, the pageant is partially run by drug lords (the story is at least in part based on real-life events), and Sigman finds herself quickly sucked into a war between criminals and drug enforcement, and the latter is no more moral than the former. This film is deliberately paced, but gripping as Hell and insanely scary, scarier than any horror movie I saw this year. Sigman is excellent in the lead. Sometimes it's hard to follow, but I think that's on purpose, as the whole film is told from the point of view of Sigman, who probably isn't all that clear on what's happening to her much of the time. Director Naranjo certainly posits himself as a director to watch (I'll have to go back to see some of his previous films).
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This review may contain subtle spoilers.

    Although the review below does not contain any specific spoilers, the gist of it could allow the reader to guess the movies final outcome, especially the penultimate paragraph.

    Miss Baha is a film that is almost great but not quite there hence my 7/10 rating. It's the story of Laura, a 23 year old working class Mexican girl who with her friend is trying to get a rung up the ladder by entering a beauty contest. Miss Congeniality this is not. Through a series of unlucky breaks and circumstances, Laura falls into a spiral of ever more perilous situations. Every decision she makes pushes her further away from her previous normal existence as she becomes ever more entwined in Mexico's de facto civil war between the US backed authorities and the Mexican drug cartels.


    The film despite being almost 2 hours long never loses your attention as the plot unfolds at quite a pace. The lead actress Stephanie Sigman gives an excellent performance as a normal person having to cope with ever more dangerous circumstances.


    Noe Hernandez playing the besieged leader of the drugs cartel portrays a man who seems to know that even though things are looking bleak for him, he somehow instinctively knows that he'll probably survive. He portrays the characters evil and violent deeds in a very matter of fact way as though he is so used to the violence that it's just another day in the office for him. A very good performance.


    The film has scenes of real menace when you just don't know how Laura is going to escape her latest predicament and has very well handled action scenes. There's a good sense of realism and a big pat on the back should go to the sound crew who have created an excellent sound mix with very realistic and naturalistic sound effects punctuated by ear shattering gun shots and explosions.  The desaturated photography adds to the gritty realism and use of mostly close up and medium shots add to the claustrophobic situation that Laura finds her self in.


    Now for the problem. Having thought about the movie over night, it ends up being a procession of ever more dangerous episodes for Laura rather than being what was probably intended as an expose of the chaotic Mexican drug war. For Laura to be in the situations she is in. she must have bought a number 13 raffle ticket, walked under a ladder while tripping over a black cat and breaking her fall by smashing into a mirror. However as the film progresses it does clearly show the corruption in Mexican society and the futility in trying to do the right thing.


    Recommended to see in a cinema because of the 2.35:1 wide screen photography and the excellent sound or just rent the Blu-ray if you've got a big TV and good surround sound. 
  • Missed entire movie except last 20 minutes waiting for popcorn so last 20 good
  • willcline-910438 February 2019
    Why show a movie like this in America if it's not in English im not about to watch it with subtitles that takes my attention off the movie...
  • samanthazambrano2 February 2019
    The beginning of the movie and the middle of the movie was ok but the ending was bad , I didn't understand why it ended like that.
  • kosmasp20 October 2016
    Some movies just feel like documentaries. This one would be a good companion piece to Sicario. Completely different point of view mind you (not to mention different crime area), but it would fit mood wise. Having said that, Sicario still is superior in many ways of course, but this has a lot of punches and it doesn't pull them.

    You may not be familiar with practices in certain areas and how you should react or better yet not react to them. While it may sound logic to go to the cops, that's not always wise. Then again, there are also deals you cannot pass. Especially if the involve your life being threatened. A little bonus doesn't hurt anybody and the movie will not answer all the questions you'll have ... Just like real life then (if you live in a very bad area like that)
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