Maria Full of Grace
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María Álvarez (Catalina Sandino Moreno) may be only seventeen, but she’s already the breadwinner for her family. Her job cutting thorns off roses on a Colombian flower plantation supports her grandmother, her mother, her sister, and her baby nephew. But when she becomes sick and her boss refuses to let her use the bathroom, María has enough—and she quits.

María soon discovers that she’s pregnant. She refuses to marry her boyfriend, the father of her child, because she doesn’t love him—but she also realizes she’ll soon have another mouth to feed. So when she’s approached with a risky—yet lucrative—offer to become a drug mule, she accepts, hoping that it’ll give her a chance at a better life.

As a mule, María’s job is to swallow pellets filled with heroin and fly to New York to deliver them. It sounds simple enough—swallow the pellets, fly to the States, and hang out in New York for a few days—but María also knows that if a single pellet comes open in her stomach, it will kill her. Still, determined to do the job and earn the money, she swallows the pellets one by one, until she’s carrying 62 of them in her stomach—and she anxiously boards the plane for her first trip to the United States.

María’s new job turns out to be more difficult than she expected. The flight to New York is a tense and uncomfortable one—and once the plane lands, things get even worse.

This Sundance-winning and Oscar-nominated film by first-time filmmaker Joshua Marston is a strong, compelling film. The story is so captivating and so realistic that it’s easy to forget it’s a work of fiction. And it’s so tight that there’s not a single bit of worthless Hollywood fluff that could have been left out. What’s left is a powerful story, plain and simple and absolutely gripping.

Moreno plays her part with the skill of a well-seasoned actress. She creates a thoughtful, determined, independent character that viewers will understand and even admire—despite her chosen line of work. Her Oscar nomination for Best Actress was definitely deserved. In fact, after seeing both Maria Full of Grace and Million Dollar Baby, I’d have to say that I was more convinced—and moved—by her performance than I was by that of Hilary Swank, who took home the award. Moreno may not have an Oscar on her mantle now—but I seriously doubt that this was her only shot at the award. I expect to see more spectacular performances from her in the future.

Powerfully dramatic, brutally honest, and thoroughly convincing, Maria Full of Grace is a film you shouldn’t miss.

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