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Overall Rating
4.26

Awesome: 31.43%
Worth A Look65.71%
Just Average: 1.43%
Pretty Crappy: 0%
Sucks: 1.43%

5 reviews, 40 user ratings


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Maria Full of Grace
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by Peijin chen

"Heroin/Heroine movie"
4 stars

I'm conflicted about this genre. I'm talking about the verite, social documentary type fiction films that take you to the dark underbellies of societies, where good people struggle against dire circumstances. I like the whole concept of the genre, because people who make these films make them out of a desire to show us things that just might disturb us. That kind of concern is commendable, and usually, if the script and direction aren't completely lousy, you can at least come out of the film feeling like you learned something about the complexity of other people's lives. Your liberal guilt is somewhat assuaged and you can get the thrill that comes with feeling righteous anger and injustice surge through your heart.

That might sound cynical, but if there's anything that makes me cynical about this medium we all love dearly, it's the relative lack of these kinds of film. That said, it takes more than simple, understated documentary-esque styles to make a good film.

This film has many of those characteristics just mentioned--it's very no-frills, but there's a sense in which in peeling back all those extraneous things in films you might go too far and be left with not much at all--or just a bunch of shopworn lines and cliche characters.

This film comes dangerously close to this. The strong, independent, sometimes impulsive Maria, the parents and family that don't understand, the feckless boyfriend that gets her pregnant, the asshole exploiter of a boss, the unscrupulous drug runners that eventually convince her to become a drug mule.

This films depicts this whole process fairly plainly, no frills. No cinematic blather here--every word, every image does something to advance the story along. I guess that's hewing to some kind of Syd Field concept of a story. Nothing extraneous--but then everything becomes obvious. We know what everything is for. Nothing is symbolic or mysterious or even perplexing. There is almost no foreshadowing at all. We know that the gutsy Maria will make it to New York, and that while it won't all be peaches there, since after all, she's dealing with drug lords and their ilk, that she at least won't die or be maimed.

When she has to hide fellow mule Lucy's death from Lucy's elder sister in New York, or pretend to her grandmother that she is calling from Colombia and not Nueva York, it's hard to not to feel a slight twinge of impatience, because all of this was expected. OK, so when they cut open Lucy's body to get out the heroin, leading Maria and her friend Blanca to take the drugs and run, my heart finally started beating a little faster, anticipating some action. But aside from that, the plot moved along somewhat mechanically.

At this point you begin to notice more clearly Maria herself, played by newcomer
Catalina Sandino Moreno--her expressions, her body language, and not least her beauty. Even when the story is cold and the dialogue lukewarm, there's still the truth of the face, of the expressions, of those more basic elements of film--the acting and the cinematography. Whenever these are done with any kind of honesty, no film can completely flatline. This film has a bunch of characters, but this movie is really about Maria--she's rarely absent from any scenes, every other shot is of her--and the more we see her, the more we get to know her, see the way she moves, talks, acts, etc. She's the heart of the film, and Moreno is definitely up to the task that implies.

I wonder if this film had been made by someone from Colombia, or a director more inclined towards cinematic flashiness (and plenty in Latin America are), what this story would have looked like. Less restraint, more flourishes, more guns, more blood, more dangerous men, steamy sex. Can't say that it would have been better, and might have detracted from the filmmaker's goal, which was clearly to impart some kind of dignity or at least something to make the audience sympathize more with the characters. But should we let the serious of the "message" interfere with our ability to look at this film as a film? Does this genre demand that we put on our social conscience caps and watch this with a certain solemnity that we wouldn't normally apply to other films? I'm conflicted about this. Watch this film and say no to drugs.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=8531&reviewer=391
originally posted: 12/13/04 08:00:37
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Sydney Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Sydney Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Seattle Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Los Angeles Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Los Angeles Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

12/02/10 PAUL SHORTT INVOLVING DRAMA WITH A GREAT STAR PERFORMANCE 4 stars
11/10/09 brian Well made, but Moreno is just too stoic to involve me emotionally. 4 stars
1/16/09 Shaun Wallner Wonderful story. 4 stars
1/08/09 Anonymous. muling is possibly the worst "job" ever? 4 stars
3/08/06 Bert Kaplan important story,well done but needed to go deeper 4 stars
3/02/06 Tanya enjoyed it, very good like city of god 5 stars
2/13/06 Phil M. Aficionado A respectable effort that just somehow didn't pull me in emotionally 3 stars
11/02/05 Jin mesmerizing 4 stars
8/13/05 Landshark Save the mules - Legalize it. 5 stars
6/12/05 Helen Bradley Great acting script doesn't preach 5 stars
5/25/05 The Mockingbird Fully realized but it wont move mountains since it happens everyday which is the point 4 stars
4/15/05 Carol Conway I saw surprised how much I like this 4 stars
4/01/05 irene diaz A very good performance by Catalina Sandino 4 stars
3/29/05 John Bale Moreno excels in this disturbing and excellent expose on drug trade 5 stars
3/27/05 indrid cold Not spectacular, but solid. 4 stars
3/18/05 Rachel unfortunatly this was just like every other foreign spanish film i've seen still its... 4 stars
3/17/05 B. D. Cole disturbing/moving/riviting ... expect a sleepless night afterwards. 5 stars
2/27/05 Scarlett Jo Hanson A Fine GUTSY performance as a girl who can sure DOO drugs! 5 stars
2/10/05 Tiffany Faye Hawthorne She's shitting you, Sean. It's a heroine shit heroin world! 4 stars
2/10/05 H.P. Lovecraft Great movie. Well acting. No special effects can still make a good movie. 4 stars
1/25/05 Sean Don't get it. My girlfriend told me girls don't shit. 4 stars
1/23/05 Kathy terPlugg In AUSTIN POWERS, the coffee was shit. In this the heroin's shit--Least it's real Colombian 5 stars
1/23/05 Hilary Adamson What a sinful world we live in, where eating & shitting heroin becomes way to a better life 4 stars
12/15/04 Andy Quirion Great understated movie to show to your kids 5 stars
10/25/04 Obi Wan Great film!! Moreno's peformance was on point! One for the DVD Collection!!! 5 stars
9/13/04 Elizabeth Heartbreaking, well acted. 4 stars
9/06/04 Sal Bevivino I thought the moving was informative, moving and well don 5 stars
8/26/04 Maureen McDevitt Intense! 5 stars
7/08/04 Joseph P I was completely under its spell. GREAT acting from Sandino Moreno and the whole cast. 5 stars
6/21/04 George Royston Great movie! EricDSnider, please don't be so stupid. Thanks 5 stars
5/28/04 VC. Alzate Amazingly powerful movie. As a colombian in the US, I'm without words. Must see! 5 stars
5/25/04 Harold Mason Boring! Too hung up on macho Latinism. 1 stars
5/08/04 gina colmenares es una pelicula extaordinaria, creo que una de las mas buenas q me he visto 5 stars
4/03/04 Flem FRESH, ORIGINAL AND GREAT IMPACT 5 stars
3/29/04 Megan I absolutely LOVED it. 5 stars
3/21/04 Dairo Londoņo for: EricDSnider-because of course ur country is full of addicts. 5 stars
3/02/04 rubens the best film of 2004 so far 5 stars
2/14/04 PAULO CESAR RUGELES EXCELENTE 5 stars
2/13/04 Ingo Dreyer "real life" was soften to make the tragedy supportable for spectators of the "first world" 5 stars
2/02/04 Chris Austin Was at the world premier @ Sundance and was moved beyond words! 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  16-Jul-2004
  DVD: 07-Dec-2004

UK
  N/A

Australia
  24-Mar-2005 (M)




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