A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Maria Full of Grace (Joshua Marston, 2004)

A few months ago, I criticized Babel (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2006) for trying to tell three or four very promising stories all at once, and not doing a satisfactory job of telling any of them, and for distracting attention away from the work done by less-well-known foreign actors by casting two movie stars (Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett). It turns out that the kind of movie I was looking for had been done two years earlier: Maria Full of Grace features a then-unknown Colombian actress, Catalina Sandino Moreno, in the first feature film by writer and director Joshua Marston. It tells the story of a pregnant Colombian teenager, Maria (Sandino Moreno), who agrees to become a "drug mule," being flown to New York after swallowing small boluses of drugs encased in plastic; the drug-runners retrieve the packets after she excretes them. It's one of those behind-the-headlines stories that can easily turn melodramatic or preachy, and it's to Marston's and Sandino Moreno's credit that it never does. Her creation of the resourceful, rebellious, determined Maria, who keeps her head when things go seriously wrong, earned Sandino Moreno a nomination for the best actress Oscar in her film debut. She lost to Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby (Clint Eastwood, 2004), but has worked regularly since then: I saw her just the other night as Luisa, the girlfriend of Cole (Joshua Jackson) on the Showtime series The Affair.