Miss Bala (2011) and Miss Bala (2019) 2-in-1 review
Miss Bala (2011) and Miss Bala (2019) 2-in-1 review
Miss Bala (2011) stars Stephanie Sigman as Laura Guerrero, a beauty contestant who gets in over her head with a gang after witnessing several murders. Miss Bala (2019) stars Gina Rodriquez as Gloria, a beauty contestant who gets in over her head with a gang after witnessing several murders. The 2011 version, almost entirely in Spanish, was written and directed by Gerardo Naranjo, who has done nothing else I have seen. The 2019 remake is directed by Twilight (2008) director Catherine Hardwicke. What could go wrong with that?
Now for this review(s), I am trying something new. There have been a few films lately that are simply remakes of the foreign original, with The Upside (2019) and the upcoming Cold Pursuit (2019) also among them. So for the sake of knocking out two birds with one stone, I’ve decided to review both films at once, lightly comparing them to let you know if you should watch either! So do let me know how this works or doesn’t work in the comments! Now I had no idea Miss Bala existed, but when I saw the remake was coming out this weekend, I watched the original and then the new one! So if you are looking for a decent action-thriller this weekend and The Kid Who Would Be King is just not your cup of tea, Miss Bala is actually not a bad pick!
The story in Miss Bala (2011) is arguably the most interesting thing about it. A story following an innocent character down the rabbit hole as she ends up part of a Mexican gang is at the least provocative, and seeing the character development in both films is very compelling. Each film keeps generally the same focus, however with a different thematic approach to morals. The original is very blunt, treating the tone more like Sicario (2015) where the audience is a helpless observer stuck with Laura unable to help. The remake takes a more Colombiana (2011) approach to the pacing and tone, trading in a focus on themes and character for a faster pace and more action. While not entirely misguided, the 2019 version of this film does not feel nearly as deep as it could and should.
This is primarily due to the protagonist’s involvement with the story. In the 2011 film, Laura simply does not know everything that is going on, and the way the film is shot and edited intentionally leaves you out of what feels like key information. While that sounds like it could alienate an audience expecting story over character focus, the 2019 remake gets lost in its plot. The various story threads don’t seem to matter as much in this version and could have been left out to make way for a darker story. The content presented through the tone also feels milder in the 2019 version; and where the original utilizes its R rating to show the severity of the situation and the awful acts committed by this gang, the remake feels held back by its PG-13 rating, so you never feel as strongly about the lack of black and white in the world.
The characters and performances in the 2011 original are expectedly reserved, helping to craft a realistically grim world where you can’t hate or love the characters as much as you want because they feel real. Stephanie Sigman’s performance is great, and her constant underreactions to the events in the film means you often get to interpret what she is thinking as a character. Playing a role like this without losing the audience’s sense of motivation for her is impressive. Noé Hernández, who plays Lino the leader of the gang, is chillingly unrelatable, giving a very cold and unpredictable performance that makes him perfectly untrustworthy. On the remake side, Gina Rodriguez does a very good job in a very different way. Instead of playing a nuanced performance, she injects more emotion into her emotions and reactions as a character, only holding back when she needs to. This places us into the mindset of the character even better, and while both performances are great, Gina Rodriguez manages to be the best difference in the two films. However Ismael Cruz Cordova as Lino delivers a very lackluster performance. I don’t blame Cordova actually, as the direction behind his character feels like they were trying to sexy-up a gang leader. That idea is the biggest misstep in the film.
Lastly, Miss Bala’s visual style has to stand out in such a culture-clash world. The 2011 film’s score is minimal, and the cinematography is perfectly dry and steady. This film grabs your attention slowly and holds on to you until you are trying to get free. Tense situations become tenser, drama turns to horror, and you just want more cuts. This is absolutely perfect and intentionally uncomfortable. The 2019 film tries and fails to update the visual style, with shakier camera work and nothing really memorable. The score and music choices actually do offer some strong moments; however the flashier choices overall make it more predictable even with the story. When everything is faster, you don’t hold the same tension you would if it really grabbed your attention.
Now I did not mean to be as harsh to the new Miss Bala as I was, and overall I quite enjoyed the film. However there is a difference in enjoying a film and having it stand out as something great. The original Miss Bala is a great film, looking at an aspect not much focused on with a unique story and strong characters. The remake is occasionally good, and occasionally dumb fun. If slow burn doesn’t work for you, and you wish the film had a big action set-piece, you may even like the new one without having seen the old one. Both films are entertaining, however only the original is truly memorable and compelling. So if you like indie films, steady and intense direction, and you don’t mind reading, Miss Bala (2011) is absolutely worth checking out! 8/10. However if you just want to sit back and enjoy a below average film with some strengths and some weaknesses, as generic as it feels, Miss Bala is not too bad either. 6/10.
So Miss Bala? Have you seen it? What did you think? Which do you prefer of the two? Be sure to leave a like or a comment below and let me know if you like this format or not! I am all for improving the way I do these reviews!
-review by Ryan Prince