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The 365 Best Films of the 2000s

Heroes of the Zeroes: Maria Full of Grace

Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“Maria Full of Grace”
Rated R

2004

There are no seasoned pros in the international drug-mule racket. Volatile variables can call up anyone’s number for capture at any time on any trip. There’s even more ruthlessness in the sadistic statistics: Kingpins know one mule will become a sacrificial lamb, distracting officers to let others sail through.

During panic, a contraband convoy can only look to whoever’s calmest at the time. In Joshua Marston’s 2004 “Maria Full of Grace,” it happened to be the woman with the most to lose.

The only bad thing about “Maria’s” Spanish subtitles: They diverted attention from Catalina Sandina Moreno — Oscar-nominated for her enthrallingly quick-witted 2004 performance as a teenager in over her head.

Maria is smart, stubborn and eager for a challenge. Pride, culture and tradition obstruct her, but so do poor choices, such as a pregnancy with a go-nowhere boy in her Colombian village. Swallowing dope and smuggling it to the states is an alluring one-time proposition to bankroll her baby and future, but risky rebellion leads to major responsibility and a looming threat of cartel violence.

Pellets are eventually expelled, but Marston’s closed-throat suspense never relents, as Maria’s reliance on the kindness of strangers and her ability to sell lies test her shaky survival instinct.

“Maria’s” subject matter could be, and has been, exploitative in other projects, but Marston shrewdly sketches asides of social drama about whether Maria should simply remain in New York. To his credit, the outcome of that choice feels as fraught with peril as Maria’s drug-running.

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3 Responses to “Heroes of the Zeroes: Maria Full of Grace”

  1. Danielle says:

    This film impacted me as few do. The performance of the lead actress was impressive, exuding the pride and stubbornness of the character. I felt for the main character, for her going-nowhere life in her village in Colombia and for the numbness she seems to have about this life. Nothing brings her joy, so when she gets pregnant, it seems that whatever choices she makes will make her life no worse than it is. Becoming a drug mule is another of many poor choices she makes within this numbness. It’s a tragic tale and well acted. I was very surprised to find that it was a first film for the writer/director Joshua Marston, and I look forward to seeing more of his films.

  2. Bobby McFerrin says:

    After watching this movie, I tried swallowing a whole grape in preparation for an all-you-can-eat lobster, steak and shrimp buffet. I would suggest not doing this – the grape that is. Maybe not the buffet either. I was sweating butter at one point, and everything got fuzzy about the fifth lobster.

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