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Movie Review

Gloria has a way with blush.

She's a makeup artist. Not just any ol' makeup artist, either, but a makeup artist in Hollywood. Tasked with making beautiful people more beautiful, she knows her stuff. And it's proved to be a good, um, foundation for her life.

So when her best friend, Suzu, who lives in Tijiuana, is hankering to enter a local beauty pageant, Gloria bounces across the border to help her look her best. Why? Because that's what besties do: They help each other out in times good, times bad, and those times when violent drug-and-weapons cartels attack the nightclub where you're both dancing.

Unfortunately, it's those last times that prove to be the most challenging.

When bullets start flying at Tijuana's hip Millennium Club, Gloria loses Suzu in the chaos. She runs out by herself and spends the night sitting in the diner next door, hoping her friend'll either stop by or at least send word. But she hears nothing, so she goes to the police. Progress, right?

Eh, no. Instead of taking Gloria to the police station, the cop turns her over to the violent gang that shot up the nightclub the night before. In short order, the gang's leader drags her against her will into a life of crime—beginning with blowing up a building.

It's a bummer, sure, but Gloria knows that staying alive and, perhaps, staying close to this blood-soaked cartel is the best chance she has to find and rescue Suzu.

Gloria used to be known as a makeup artist. Now she's just making up her plan as she goes. And while she may still have a way with blush, the American girl may have to do things that make her turn truly red—or blanch terribly white.

Positive Elements

If I was captured by a bloodthirsty band of villains, I think I'd want someone like Gloria trying to rescue me, too. The woman shows some amazing, and even inspiring, resourcefulness and courage under some pretty dangerous conditions. And while her actions sometimes lead to the deaths of others, she at least feels terrible about it.

Gloria also works hard to make sure that Suzu's little brother, who lives with big sis, is taken care in the woman's absence.

Spiritual Content

When Gloria's first captured by the movie's malcontents, she seems to mouth a terrified prayer. But her captors seem to embrace faith, too. Well, kind of. The main bad guy, Lino, has a huge tattoo on his forearm that says "FAITH." (He and other members of his posse wear crosses around their necks, too.)

We see churches and Catholic iconography in passing at times, and a man sells massive crucifixes at the Mexican-American border.

Sexual Content

Miss Bala is predicated, in part, on sexual trafficking: Gloria's told that women are sometimes rounded up and forced into what amounts to sexual slavery. In fact, she eventually learns that her friend has fallen prey to just such a ring, this one run by law enforcement. Gloria meets another woman who says she's essentially "owned" by Pollo, Lino's right-hand guy. Indeed, when the woman (Isabel) is chopping up veggies for the crew's dinner, Pollo comes in and makes an obscene movement by way of invitation/suggestion/order. Isabel's attitude makes it clear that she doesn't want to go, but she dares not resist. (They leave the kitchen and the camera does not follow.)

Lino clearly has intentions for Gloria along the same lines, though the interplay between seduction and coersion is a bit blurrier here. At times, he seems determined to impress or woo her. But he also enters her bedroom, takes off his shirt and orders Gloria to remove his shoes. Then, as part of a bargain to keep Gloria's godson (and Suzu's brother) safe, Lino orders Gloria to take off her clothes. She mostly does, getting down to her bra and underwear before Lino's called away. He also touches her repeatedly and suggestively—and creepily, it should be added, as Gloria is hardly a willing partner.

We see Gloria in her underwear at other junctures, too, and once wrapped in a towel after she gets out of the shower. She and other women wear tight, revealing dresses at nightclubs, parties and as part of beauty pageants. Gloria sometimes slips telltale tracking chips inside her bra or under her shirt.

Tijuana's chief of police is pretty creepy, too. When he meets Gloria for the first time, his hand wanders down to her rear and grabs it, and he flirts and leers at her and other women constantly. Suzu repeats a rumor that the chief always sleeps with the winner of the beauty pageant, and she and Gloria go to the nightclub in large part to get some face time with the lecherous man. (Later, circumstances seem to confirm that rumor, and the police chief asks the pageant winner to take off her dress.)

Suzu and Gloria briefly talk about when each developed breasts. There's a reference to scantily clad women at a party belonging to a variety of elite "escort services."

Violent Content

The shootout at the Millennium nightclub is just one of several we see. Lots of people are shot during that first standoff, and some are killed. (We see a man's corpse filling a body bag outside the club.) Other gunfights depict participants being shot and killed. Lino himself is shot in the leg, and we later see Gloria caring for the bandaged wound.

But perhaps the most jarring moment of violence is closer to an execution: Lino forces a woman to her knees as his gang looks on. The camera moves away before the coup de grâce, but we hear the gunshot and, later, see the lifeless body lying on the ground. The woman's death is indirectly Gloria's fault, and we see Gloria weeping and grieving as she realizes her role.

Lino's gang employs grenade launchers to, apparently, kill an American DEA agent and blow police cars out of the way. A car bomb explodes by a building, killing another three men. (We don't see their bodies, but someone does show Gloria pictures of them in happier days, spending time with their families.) A guy is shot three times in the gut, crimson staining his shirt as he apparently bleeds out. Someone else gets shot in the leg and then finished off while lying helplessly on the ground.

Pollo threatens to kill Gloria's godson, threatening to "gut him like a chicken" if she doesn't follow orders. An injured thug is pulled into someone's house and put on a dining room table, where he later dies. People point guns and threaten others. Gloria's forced to drive recklessly and dangerously. A fire breaks out in a kitchen, but is extinguished before it can do any damage.

Gloria is forced to transport a shipment of guns across the border. Lino is concerned that if she doesn't know how to use a rifle, she might be killed. He offers her detailed coaching on how to arm and use an AR-15 assault rifle.

Crude or Profane Language

One f-word and about seven s-words. We also hear uses of "a--," "b--ch" and "d--n." God's name is misused twice.

Drug and Alcohol Content

As mentioned, Lino's gang is in the drug trade. He straps packets of money (and perhaps cocaine) around Gloria's midsection (while she's wearing just a bra) and stows more drugs in a secret compartment under her car—sending her across the border to make contact with a stateside business partner. (The partner cuts open one of the bags and tastes the substance inside to make sure it's genuine.)

We see lines of cocaine at a nightclub, too. Characters drink wine, whiskey, tequila (including shots of it) and quite a bit of beer.

Other Negative Elements

Lots of folks act like big ol' jerks here, though their level of jerkiness varies from person to person. Perhaps the worst, in some ways, is the DEA agent who forces Gloria to work for him—promising rescue he never planned on providing. Lino lies, too. And it seems as if many members of the Tijuana police force are corrupt and running various illegal schemes of their own as well.

Naturally, no one misleads people as much as Gloria does: Given the tenuous thread of life that she hangs on here, we can perhaps excuse many of her actions. But they do sometimes lead directly to innocent people dying (though that's never Gloria's desire or intention).

Gloria's godson talks disrespectfully to her. Gloria steals a couple of makeup bags from a gig of hers to use with Suzu.


So, it's almost a given that when a movie uses a beauty pageant to ensnare a notorious drug gang, you're not talking about high art. And certainly, Miss Bala would not be mistaken as such. Based on a 2011 Mexican film of the same name, this flick might've been better served slipping into some sort of cinematic witness-protection program and never being heard from again.

Miss Bala hugs the PG-13 content line without ever crossing over it. But honestly, it feels seamier than the content sections above might suggest. I think a lot of that is due to the film's thematic foray into the horrific world of human trafficking and all that it implies. As such, the whole enterprise feels tawdry and slimy—almost as if the film itself was channeling the attitude of the handsy police chief.

The likeable Gina Rodriguez, this film's star, deserves better, quite frankly. But Miss Bala misses the mark.

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Plot Summary

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Gina Rodriguez as Gloria; Ismael Cruz Cordova as Lino; Anthony Mackie as Jimmy; Aislinn Derbez as Isabel; Matt Lauria as Brian; Cristina Rodlo as Suzu; Ricardo Abarca as Pollo; Thomas Dekker as Justin


Catherine Hardwicke ( )





Record Label



In Theaters

February 1, 2019

On Video

April 30, 2019

Year Published



Paul Asay

Content Caution

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