Competent, Worthy, and Lacking

Maria Full of Grace

Maria Full of Grace is a straightforward, clinical, nearly artless movie that starts out as a rote tract on the human cost of the drug trade and eventually builds itself into a story in which the audience has an emotional investment. In the end, it sits somewhere between the brilliant and razor-sharp British miniseries Traffik and its obvious, too-condensed American re-make Traffic (directed by Steven Soderbergh).

Maria is a pregnant, headstrong 17-year-old Columbian who quits her demeaning, low-paying job preparing roses and decides to become a “mule,” a person who transports drugs by ingesting dozens of latex-covered pellets. The job is more demeaning than her old one, and a lot more dangerous, but it also pays a hell of a lot better. The movie excels at showing the mechanics of being a mule, from the creation of the drug pellets to the swallowing to the recovery process. It is also striking in its portrayal of fear — of getting caught, of a pellet breaking in the digestive system, of the thuggish underlings charged with recovering the drugs from the mules, of being in a foreign country with no support system.

Written and directed by Joshua Marston and with a fully credible central performance by Catalina Sandino Moreno, Maria is highly competent in nearly all facets, yet it’s never anything more than a noble story well-told. The characters barely register, and the tension is purely situational. Furthermore, the film’s name and poster suggest resonant religious themes that Marston never even touches on, and those could have made the difference between this worthy movie and a transcendent one.

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