Low-key, realistically-shot drama about a 17-year-old Colombian girl (Catalina Sandino Moreno) who agrees to work as a drug "mule", ingesting capsules of heroin and smuggling them into the United States. Suffice to say, it's neither a fun nor glamorous trek for poor, headstrong Maria, but writer/director Marston refuses to let his story devolve into a routine violent crime thriller.
I say the above with both admiration and disappointment. While Marston deserves credit for keeping things intimate, I think this was more out of obligation to Sundance's ideal of the stately independent film (Maria was workshopped at the institute, and won the audience award at the 2004 festival), because after an increasingly tense buildup, the film ebbs to a close that feels at once rushed, anti-climactic, and rather too tidy. On a story level, it's technically satisfying; on a visceral, audience level, it left me asking, "That's it?" I had hoped for more. Not that I wanted any gunfights or car chases, but for a film that promises a harrowing journey along one of the scariest avenues of the drug trade, it winds up a sleepy drama that, while showing respect for Maria, shrugs off the complex, dangerous industry she has employed herself in.
Nevertheless, Maria Full of Grace provides a refreshing point of view, casting light on a little-seen subset of society, as well as daily life in Colombia. I'll leave it to other people to argue over whether a white American male like Joshua Marston should be the one to tell this story. But I'll admit that, while I feel that everybody has a right to make a film about whoever they wish, irrespective of race, class or gender, the discrepancy did bug me. The acting is fine, though, and the title is the cleverest I've seen all year.