Miss Bala (2019) – Score Review

Alex Heffes has some fine movies under his belt already, having provided the score for the amazing The Last King of Scotland and the distinctly harrowing Touching the Void. In 2019 we have the soundtrack to the Catherine Hardwick directed Miss Bala (a remake of a 2011 Mexican film of the same name); a film about drugs, cartels, kidnapping, and occasional beauty pageants.

At 49 minutes in length, there is no time to waste! This review is being written without having seen the film as it is yet to reach UK cinemas so it will be taken on its own merits as a piece of music. Due warning is being given that the track titles do contain plot references/spoilers, so read on at your own risk. Is this album worth a listen on your streaming service of choice? Is it worth spending the money to purchase? Let’s take a look.

Many of the tracks on this album album display a distinctly Mexican-funk, flamenco-tinged vibe. In the opening track ‘Gloria and Suzu’, upbeat guitars are joined by a smooth, jazzy bassline, with a synth weaving itself in towards the end of the track to add just a hint of something more thoughtful.

Track 2, ‘Meeting Lino’, is an altogether more sombre affair, with a relentless tapping, scratching beat interspersed with synth-heavy drums. Without seeing the film it’s impossible to know who Lino is, but if this track is anything to go by then it is very clear that he is bad, bad news.

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Track 3 – ‘The Cafe’ – and the wistful tones of the opening track are already a distant, fading memory as the more ominous tones are layered on; the sharp, high-pitched tones of the guitar now backed by a thumping bass beat and quivering, melancholy strings conjuring up images of dangerous men girding themselves to do dangerous things. This theme is continued with Track 4, ‘Police Car’, a minimalist piece that abruptly swerves into the bombastic, and into Track 5 – ‘The Spa’ – a slow, muted piece that showcases the return of that Latin-themed guitar from Track 1, but there is little joy to be found here, the guitar conjuring images of gunfighters standing on dust-swirled streets more than anything else.

Track 6 – ‘Gloria Drives’ – and the synths are front and centre in a style reminiscent of an 80’s cop-show, a theme that follows through into Track 7, ‘Safehouse Explosion’. It is easy to imagine these tracks being played over scenes from the original Miami Vice or even in a Michael Mann crime movie.

Tracks 8-11 – ‘Reich Interrogates’/’Returning to Suzu’s’/’Gloria’s Phone is Gone’/’Swapping Sims’ – feel like they could be taken as one suite of music, each sharing a very similar feel and use of instruments. While Track 12 – ‘Crossing the Border’ – sees the score return to a slightly more upbeat affair than the half dozen or so tracks that precede it, with the acoustic guitar making a welcome return though it must share space with that by-now familiar synth beat and a swirling mix of electronica.

Skipping over Track 13, ‘Tracking Chip’, we arrive at Track 14 – The Bullring – where things get kicked up a notch (Bam!). The acoustic guitar is front and centre, electric guitar hiding just in the background. This single track is the highlight of the album, weaving together guitar, synths and drums to create a perfect action-movie musical blend.

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Track 15 – ‘Gloria Starts a Fire’ – is, very possibly – and stay with me here – about the movie’s main character starting a fire. Amazing. This is a fast-paced little number that clocks in at a brisk 92 seconds in length, which probably is more than enough time to start a fire depending on the materials available.

As might be obvious from the comment above, by this point in the soundtrack it becomes difficult to say a lot about each individual track as many of them are somewhat… samey. This isn’t a negative as such, this is the sort of album that is good to stick on in the background while working as there are no sudden jarring changes of tone or musical outbursts beyond the switch to the acoustic guitar to distract the listener, but it makes it a difficult soundtrack to review on a track by track basis.

Is this worth a purchase? Probably not at full price unless you happen to be a completionist of Alex Heffes work, but it would be worth picking up discounted, and is definitely worth finding and streaming. It will be interesting to see how it works within the confines of the film when it finally reaches the UK in March.

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