Maria Full of Grace (2003)

The drug dealing business and kidney beans apparently don’t mix together well.

17-year-old Maria Alvarez (Catalina Sandino Moreno) isn’t quite like normal, 17-year-old gals her age, especially ones living in Columbia. For starters, she likes to adventure and live every moment as if it were her last, whereas the other peeps around her just waste life because they can. She’s pregnant, and in a place where it’s common-courtesy to marry the person you’ve been impregnated by, she doesn’t really want to since the guy in question is such a slug and doesn’t really love her. Also, she hates her job and will actually stand up for herself when she’s being mistreated by her boss, unlike the rest of her fellow coworkers that just take the abuse all because it’s the only thing they can do to keep a roof over their heads and survive. Maria doesn’t care about that, she just wants to live. That’s why when she’s propositioned with the job of being a drug mule for a local kingpin (it is Columbia don’t forget), she can’t turn it down, even though she does feel a bit hesitant at first taking so many chances of being arrested, getting hurt, or even worse, possibly getting others in her family hurt as well. But it’s a free ride to NYC, just as long as she can swallow and hold in not one, not two, not three, and hell, not even 10 drug pellets, but 65-70 drug pellets for a long, long time.

If I was in the same situation, I'd probably be shittin' bricks. Oh wait, no I wouldn't. At least not on purpose.
If I was in the same situation, I’d probably be shittin’ bricks. Oh wait, no I wouldn’t. At least not on purpose.

I don’t know about any of you, but waking up for the morning commute and working my nine-to-five desk job is all fine and dandy for me, just as long as I don’t have to control my bowels for over nine hours. If it ever gets to the point of where I have to do that, then just consider me unemployed. Plain and simple.

Anyway, the point behind that random snippet into my mind is that the idea of a drug mule is one that’s frowned upon, and with somewhat of a good reason. Drugs are bad, and drug smuggling is even badder. Case closed. However, what most people don’t realize about being a drug mule is that the people who sometimes partake in this line of business (the “mules” themselves), don’t necessarily have a choice, especially since they’re from Columbia where almost everything, and anything is fueled by drugs in one way or another.

That’s why when you look at writer/director Joshua Marston’s approach to the material, you gain a better idea of what it’s like for these numerous men and women who have had to swallow numerous amounts of drug balloons, keep them in their stomach, hold them for as long as they are told to, make sure they don’t pop-open in their stomach, and most likely the biggest obstacle of all, not getting caught by the feds that are just waiting for someone such as them to walk right next to them and get caught red-handed.

Some of you may see that as a poor career-choice for those people, so why the hell should we care, and the fact is you don’t have to. However, realizing that smuggling drugs across country-lines is probably all that those citizens got going for themselves which makes it easy to open your eyes and think a little bit about the last time you’ve been in a budge for money. Remember some of the nutty things you had to do? Well, maybe it wasn’t to the certain extent of smuggling drugs, but you get my idea: Don’t be judging. And that corny motto is exactly what Marston goes about doing not just with Maria, but everybody else in this story, whether they be involved with the drug world or not.

Marston presents us with the character of Maria who, from the looks of it, seems like your average, ordinary teen: Rebellious, pleasant, thoughtful, and willing to give anybody a piece of her mind when she thinks something that’s done to her isn’t right. Not only does this make us connect with her more on a common level, but it also makes us feel like she’s a real person, who has to make real, hard, life-changing decisions, especially as the film goes on. I don’t want to give away some of the questionable, and otherwise, dumb decisions that Maria makes, but you know that every one she makes is coming out of the mind of a human-being that’s not only trying to survive in this world, but live in it as well. She doesn’t take anything for granted, which is why when it starts to seem like her life may be in jeopardy due to this newly found career-options she’s starting to pursue, you feel bad for her and just hope that everything ends up alright for her in the end. Even when it does look too bleak at times, you know that Maria is a good person and, whatever the outcome of her action may be, you know that she means well.

Sort of like all of us: We make decisions, some good ones, some not so good, but we always mean well in the end. Most of the time anyway. Can’t say I speak on behalf of O.J. or Charlie Manson, but you get my drift.

You really want to be doing for the rest of your days? Reaaaally?!?!?
See what I’m saying?!?! You really want to be doing this for the rest of your days?

But what I think another factor into what makes Maria a character worth giving a flying hoot about is the fact that, other than Marston’s nonjudgmental-approach, is the fact that  Catalina Sandino Moreno really nails this role and totally deserved the Oscar nomination she got for this, mainly because she never really has to say much to get her character’s point across. For one, she has these very expressive eyes that make you understand whatever it is that she’s thinking, at any given second, and secondly, she always shows what her next motivation will be, especially when everything else going on around her is so unpredictable and crazy.

An example I think about so clearly in my head is the one key scene where authorities pull Maria over, question her, and try and get her to admit to smuggling drugs, which for any human-being thrown into that same situation, would be an ultimate crisis of emotions. However, Maria opts the other way out and decides to keep her cool, stay calm, and act as if she has no idea what any of these folks are talking about. In any other movie, one would automatically think that Maria a lying, selfish, and undeniably sneaky character you can’t trust because she doesn’t tell the truth about her drug smuggling, but somehow, in this movie, with this direction, and this amazing performance by Moreno, you feel sorry for her and know why it is that she chooses to do what it is that she’s doing. Doesn’t make you want to root for her, nor give the drug smuggling business a shot on your own time, but it does make you care more for her, the ones around her, and her own story. One filled with the same type of adventure and excitement that she so desperately wanted. And she definitely got it, for damn sure.

Consensus: May be bleak, may be depressing, and may be a very sad snap-shot of the world we live in, but Maria Full of Grace still reaches out to those that commit such criminal acts as drug smuggling, gives them a time to shine and tell their story, and allow for us, the judgmental viewer, not to be so and actually think of things from their point-of-view, as challenging as that initially may be to do.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

So many drug pellets to swallow, such a small bladder.
So many drug pellets to swallow, such a small bladder.

Photo’s Credit to:


  1. Good review, Dan. It’s a great story. Catalina Sandino Moreno was marvelous in it. I liked how she softened up at the end of film when the older sister called her out and Maria redeemed herself by giving her $ for funeral expenses. It was a sensitive display and the only time Maria broke down. I would have during the whole process of being a mule. She didn’t.

  2. What a nice surprise to see that you reviewed this movie. I absolutely love this flick and Moreno’s performance is just perfect. Great review!

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