In a small village in Colombia, the pregnant seventeen years old Maria supports her family with her salary working in a floriculture. She is fired and with a total lack of perspective of finding a new job, she decides to accept the offer to work as a drug mule, flying to USA with sixty-two pellets of cocaine in her stomach. Once in New York, things do not happen as planned. Written by
From a life that's hard to swallow, to drugs that are hard to swallow.
I really liked this movie a lot. It's refreshing to come across a compelling human drama that is told in such an incredibly honest and unexaggerated fashion that it ends up feeling wonderfully real and completely believable. The rather straightforward story only makes the movie feel more convincing - not at all contrived.
Maria Alvarez, played by previous unknown Catalina Sandino Moreno, is a seventeen year old who falls into the sticky-sweet trap of seeking a quick escape from the drudgery and hopelessness of her mundane existence. She turns to drugs. Not using them, though - smuggling them. Working as a drug mule offers her the chance at easy money. But, like most young people, she dives into it headlong - without fully realizing the risks and possible consequences. In fact, this movie really is all about young people stumbling over their own poor judgements (yes, it can be painful to watch at times).
Given all the hype that surrounded this movie when it was released, I found it to be not quite as harrowing as I had expected. Perhaps I'm just too jaded and desensitized. In truth, there were moments where I felt genuinely afraid for Maria. Mostly, though, there was just a real sense of the despair and desperation that fills the lives of these young Colombians. Perhaps this movie will, after all, not be the centerpiece of the Colombia Tourism Board's upcoming marketing and public relations campaign.
In the spirit of keeping it genuine (aka believable), all the acting in this movie is right on the mark - all the actors deliver. Of course, Catalina Sandino Moreno (Maria) is so graced with natural beauty and she projects such a gentle and humble manner that one can't really help but feel empathy for her character. In fact, if there is anything to find fault with in the casting of her as Maria, it's that you're left wondering why her boyfriend would be such a God-damned idiot as to pass her up. If he had even an ant's worth of common sense, he would be madly in love with her. Not? So, that's the one element that doesn't gel so well.
The moody and melancholic music throughout this film - with plenty of beautiful acoustic guitar playing - supports the emotional content of the movie perfectly. Thankfully, it doesn't overtly bang you on the head with "feel sad here", and "feel scared here", and "feel relieved here". It sinks back a bit to find its harmony with the other elements. Nice.
The cinematography is beautiful in its simplicity and its understated manner. The word "modest" - in its best sense - serves well in describing this movie. Overall, it's just not as heavily stylized as other the-perils-of-getting-involved-with-drugs type movies - such as "Requiem For a Dream", "Traffic", "Blow", and "City of God", to name but a few - and with little of the annoying moralizing that tends to poison movies of this "genre".
In conclusion, most of us have already learned in life that one shouldn't be an ass. What this movie teaches us is that it's also not a good idea to be a mule.
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