Most of the thrills in this ripped-from-the-headlines story about Laura (Stephanie Sigman), a Mexican beauty-pageant hopeful who is unwillingly embroiled in a dangerous drug cartel operation, stem from director/co-writer Gerardo Naranjo's fantastic camerawork. Using long, impressive tracking shots, he provides viewers with plenty of atmospheric excitement. His dazzling visual style is matched by a substantive drama about the reach of drug violence in Mexico — how it involves police corruption, families, innocent victims, DEA agents and American drug dealers.
Yet even with the vivid and authentic treatment of the topic — along with some amazing action set pieces — Miss Bala (produced by Y Tu Mama Tambien guys Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna) feels a bit lukewarm for such a hot topic. It's hard to fully connect with the detached Laura, who is continually placed in harm's way. Still, Sigman gives a stunning performance. She is particularly good in an ironic scene in which Laura is crowned Miss Baja California after witnessing a violent shootout. But even as she endures multiple horrors, viewers know as much about her at the film’s end as they did at the beginning. That may be the film's point, but it gets a little lost among the noisy messages hammered home about the impact and influence of the drug cartels.