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Overall Rating

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 Robert Flaxman

"Maria full of atmosphere."
4 stars

Self-conscious attempts to break with convention rarely work. If a film is working that hard at breaking with convention in some places, chances are good that the film as a whole doesnít stray too far from the beaten path. Maria Full of Grace, the first film of writer/director Joshua Marston, takes steps to depict the realities of the Colombian drug trade from the point of view of a mule. While its events sometimes defy our expectations, and while it is effectively harrowing at many points, it still finds itself largely within the realm of convention. Fortunately, it survives this problem.

Maria (first-timer Catalina Sandino Moreno) is a 17-year-old girl from a small Colombian town. She works a job she doesnít like, is subject to a family that demands too much of her, gets pregnant by a boyfriend she doesnít love, and dreams of a more interesting life. Thus when she is offered a job as a drug mule, swallowing dozens of balloons of heroin and transporting them to New York in her stomach, she doesnít seem to have to think twice.

In his commentary on Mariaís DVD, Marston explains that he didnít want Maria to be so desperate for work that she had no choice but to be a mule. He certainly made the right decision Ė what makes the filmís message so powerful and dramatic is that Maria is by no means forced into the trade. Instead, she likes the idea of both the money and the travel. This is one of several attempts by Marston to contradict his audienceís standard impression of the drug trade. Surely people working as mules only do so because they canít do anything else! Not so, says Marston, and heís done his research.

Despite Marstonís best intentions, though, the film mostly fails to crawl out of the shadow of predictability. Several important plot points are telegraphed by the passable but by no means superior dialogue, robbing the film of much of its tension at key moments. Perhaps a couple scenes feature events that are not what the audience expects to see, but the general story is nothing particularly inventive.

Fortunately, this is counterbalanced for much of the film by the atmosphere Ė Marstonís relatively spare direction and naturalistic camera (aided by cinematographer Jim Denault) give the proceedings a very harrowing and uncomfortable feel that puts the audience into the charactersí shoes. In particular, the scene on the plane is near-perfect at capturing the anxiety of Maria and her fellow mules, all also young Colombian women.

It is the overall effectiveness of the filmís atmosphere that makes Maria Full of Grace what it is. If the tone did not work, the film would sink itself. It becomes all too obvious at times that this is the first film for a lot of people involved, between the up-and-down acting (Moreno is a rock who deserved her Oscar nod, but much of her supporting cast is iffy at times) and the simplistic plot that is the hallmark of a film which is counting on its subject material to transcend the routine way the story is told.

Luckily, the subject material does help the story a little, but it is mostly the strong execution of atmosphere and tone that moves the film slightly ahead of the crowd. With his first feature out of the way, Marstonís writing can only get better, and with this polished an ability to make the audience feel so early in his career, his future should be carefully watched.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=8531&reviewer=385
originally posted: 03/16/05 17:22:11
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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

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
3/29/04 Megan I absolutely LOVED it. 5 stars
3/21/04 Dairo LondoŮo 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
2/13/04 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
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  DVD: 07-Dec-2004


  24-Mar-2005 (M)

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