It is certainly true that in much of the world and in many circumstances, women are powerless, helpless to control the situations they find themselves enmeshed in at the behest of men. It is true that women are very often pawns in the games of men. But there is a whole lotta frustration to be found in a movie about such a woman forced to play men’s games who doesn’t fight back… not even a little. I would like to believe that up-and-coming Mexican director Gerardo Naranjo (who cowrote Miss Bala’s script with Mauricio Katz) is making some sort of feminist statement in his tale of Laura Guerrero (Stephanie Sigman, who embodies a palpable power in spite of the film she finds herself in), a poor but pretty young woman from Tijuana who dreams of a beauty pageant win to lift her out of her poverty and desperation. From the get-go, however, even her attempts to enter the Miss Baja California contest are thwarted by the rampages of drug lord Lino Valdez (Noe Hernandez), who then co-opts her beauty-queen dreams for his own nefarious purposes. There is a certain power in the ominous feeling the film creates in how, it seems, there’s no way that Laura — or anyone else, up to and including a DEA agent (Jose Yenque) — can play Lino’s game and win, and no way that anyone Lino picks can not play. But there are also moments in which I expected Laura to take a small slice of her destiny into her own hands that failed to come to fruition: there’s one scene in which a gun is so tantalyzingly within her reach, and she fails to take advantage of it; another thing I thought would turn into a subplot about her taking subtle revenge on Lino, by not passing on word of a traitor in his midst, never materializes. Instead, Miss Bala seems to indicate that yup, Laura really is helpless, a complete and utter victim despite her initial spunk. I hate finding myself wondering if Naranjo hopes we’ll find Lino less than entirely evil because he doesn’t rape Laura at the first opportunity he has, and instead waits for a more “romantic” moment. Women’s absolute debasement may be a reality in the world, but it hardly sits well with the kind of film it appears Miss Bala wants to be: one that demands a bit of backbone from its protagonist, instead of a simple lack of objection to being a punching bag.