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Beauty and the dope

OUT NOW! A MISS BALA pageant entrant gets caught in cartel crossfire, but luckily corruption cliches stay sober throughout this thriller.

Laura Guerrero (Stephanie Sigman) is a young woman living in Tijuana with her father and much younger brother. She leaves one morning for the city centre to participate in the Miss Bala California beauty pageant. Within hours, what started as a harmless pipedream becomes a nightmare. Caught in the crossfire of a surprise raid on a nightclub, she’s drawn into the fierce, ruthless world of drug cartel wars on whose borders the golden waters of the Baja exist only to mock the misery of constant fear. While Steven Soderbergh and Oliver Stone combined the perceived glamour of North America’s drug use with the greed and power play that feed addiction south of the border, Mexican director Gerardo Naranjo does well to stay on his home turf (with one very brief but salient exception), capturing the territorial texture of semi-poverty in every shot of ramshackle urbanisation, buckling bridges and dented cars. Similarly, his view of the proceedings stays almost exclusively on Sigman, whose sulky humour gives way to passive, deadened resignation as she witnesses jungle justice and a labyrinth of corruption and confusion. The statistics on fatalities and drug earnings that follow the film are completely redundant. We got that message in the first 20 minutes.

Miss Bala | Directed by Gerardo Naranjo (Mexico 2011) with Stephanie Sigman, Noé Hernández (Spanish, partly with English subtitles). Starts October 18