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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Miss Bala is an action/crime movie wrapped around a female empowerment story. Based on the 2011 Mexican hit film, it centers on Gloria (Gina Rodriguez), a smart, courageous Mexican American woman who must work for a cartel boss to find her missing friend. While there's little blood, violence is still prevalent: Expect lots of gun battles, an execution-style murder, gun/knife use, a car bombing, and more. The film also presents a sexual culture that dehumanizes women (which the film clearly frowns upon), and there's unwanted groping and sex. Strong language includes rare uses of "f--k," plus "s--t," "bitches," and cursing in Mexican Spanish; characters also drink and use drugs. Aislynn Derbez and Anthony Mackie co-star.
What's the story?
In MISS BALA, smart, independent Mexican American Gloria (Gina Rodriguez) returns to Tijuana to help her best friend, Suzu (Cristina Rodlo), enter a beauty contest. At a nightclub, Gloria survives a shoot-out but loses sight of Suzu. While trying to find her, Gloria catches the eye of crime boss Lino (Ismael Cruz Cordova), who shot up the club and has plans for her. In order to find her friend and survive, Gloria must navigate the machinations of the cartel, corrupt police, and DEA agents. The movie is based on the 2011 Mexican hit.
Is it any good?
Director Catherine Hardwicke and star Rodriguez wisely keep the focus on Gloria's realistic emotional and intellectual journey, making this a grounded actioner with a female-empowerment heart. Rather than dwell on macho posturing and spraying buckets of blood at every opportunity, the filmmakers let us into Gloria's wild ride through Rodriguez's expressive eyes. You can see the moments when this regular young woman realizes that she's in way too deep -- and then deeper, and deeper still. But Gloria keeps her head, making her courage all the more believable. There are plenty of white-knuckle moments, and Rodriguez lets viewers experience them all with her without going over the top. And it all starts with her irresistible friend chemistry with Rodlo. As the genuinely scary Lino, Cordova makes such a strong impression that it's tempting to call him a find -- but then you realize he's been around for a while. He's so versatile that you might not connect him to the courtier he played in Mary Queen of Scots or the soldier in Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk. The Ray Donovan and Berlin Station star is someone to watch.
Hardwicke keeps the story moving with an understated, gritty style, making viewers feel as trapped on the ride as Gloria is. The director depicts a lethal subculture in which women are utterly objectified, from the beauty pageant to actual human trafficking. Gloria even receives a dose of body-shaming from a female pageant official. All this is a setup for a credible transformation from someone who's in over her head to a woman who's ready to take arms against a sea of troubles. The film's subject matter and violence won't be for everyone, but Miss Bala is effective and absorbing.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how women are treated in the violent subculture depicted in Miss Bala. Does the film comment on women being treated as objects? If so, what is it saying? Is this a feminist film?
The bad guys (with one exception) are Mexican drug dealers and corrupt cops. Gloria, her friend, and her friend's family are also Mexican or of Mexican descent. Do you feel, on balance, that the film perpetrates negative stereotypes of Mexicans, or is it balanced by the "good" characters?
In what way did Miss Bala feel different to you, compared to other movies with similar themes (Sicario, Man on Fire, The Mule, others)?
- In theaters: February 1, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: April 30, 2019
- Cast: Gina Rodriguez, Anthony Mackie, Ismael Cruz Cordova
- Director: Catherine Hardwicke
- Studio: Columbia Pictures
- Genre: Thriller
- Character strengths: Courage
- Run time: 103 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: sequences of gun violence, sexual and drug content, thematic material, and language
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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