The original Miss Bala was a brilliant indie film that drove the visceral violence of the Mexican drug wars straight home. The remake, starring Gina Rodriguez, is much more polished and much less in-your-face but it’s still really entertaining and more importantly for this Latinx viewer, empowering. The brilliance of the original film was that it basically made you sit and watch as this poor woman was subjected to escalating violence and insane situations that she basically had no control over. The discomfort caused to the viewing audience and the outrage at the injustice of it all was the whole point.
But Gina Rodriguez and director Catherine Hardwicke had another vision for the remake. Their version of Miss Bala would have the titular character, Gloria, taking a much more active role in her fate. “There’s no woman in my life who just sits back and lets things happen,” Rodriguez points out. “Woman are rarely portrayed as proactively trying to save themselves in action films.”
She is 100% right. What I loved about her character Gloria was that she was not a brash or outspoken badass from the start of the film. She’s actually a quiet, thoughtful character who crosses the border back into Tijuana to help her best friend (and only real remaining family) Suzu with her makeup for a big beauty pageant that she’s entered. You actually see Gloria bite her tongue in the very first scene when her supervisor on the set of a fashion show shuts down one of her creative ideas. It’s established from the start that she is not a natural extrovert.
But after a gang attempts an assassination at a nightclub where she’s partying with Suzu and her bf goes missing all bets are off. She switches modes, and from then on it becomes quite clear that she’s capable of doing just about anything it takes not only to survive but also rescue her best friend. “I wanted Gloria to be tough in every way,” Rodriguez said. “It’s been really nice to become very strong in my own body.”
Mental strength becomes a crucial part of Gloria’s survival in the film, particularly when she meets Lino. Played by Ismael Cruz Cordova, Lino and Gloria share similar upbringings. They both spent their childhoods straddling the border, “ni de aqui, ni de alla.” The chemistry between Cordova and Rodriguez is tangible and their scenes propel the film in more ways than one. It is obvious early on that Lino sees something in Gloria that he appreciates and even admires. But does the admiration go both ways? It’s never really clear if Gloria returns the respect she’s earned from Lino or if she sees their interactions as simply necessary for survival and purely transactional. Either way, the push and pull between their characters and the way that the tension is never really resolved provides a great tight rope that the film walks through to the end. “They’re both trying to define themselves so it transcends the traditional captor/hostage dynamic and creates an ambiguity in the relationship that’s surprising and satisfying.”
I, for one, was thrilled that they didn’t go the traditional Hollywood route of having the kidnapped woman “fall in love” with her captor. If anything, it’s Gloria pulling the strings of their relationship, even though bodies fall as a result. Her decisions have consequences, and sometimes, innocent people get caught in the crossfire — including her fellow hostage Isabel, played by a haunting Aislinn Derbez.
It is difficult to really describe how satisfying it was to see a cast comprised nearly entirely of Latinx cast members holding up an action film on the big screen like this. By the end of the film, Gloria is truly transformed in a way that begs for sequels. We as a community need to buy tickets for this movie so that we can continue to see ourselves front and center on the silver screen. This version of Miss Bala is a film about one woman’s rite of passage and I hope us Latinxs can learn to believe in and support our content creators just like Gloria learns to believe in herself.