Maria Alvarez is a headstrong and bright 17-year old Columbian struggling to make ends meet while living with several generations of her family. She comes to a crossroads when she quits a low level, abusive job and needs to find work fast. She stumbles onto a drug cartel looking for women to be carriers of drugs to the U.S. It is a sure money-maker, but it comes with strings attached; immigration officials, dangerous drug dealers and the threat of death if one of the pouches Maria must swallow opens in her belly.
Maria's story is obviously one that a thousand Maria's have lived before. The risks and false allure of financial savior grabs women like Maria who are backed into a corner. Many have ended up dead, others have likely fallen into the abyss of the drug world.
Maria is portrayed brilliantly by Catalina Sandino Moreno. Moreno gives life to Maria's many strengths - intelligence, determination, endurance - and her weaknesses - naivete to the world and a stubbornness of a belief that she has all the answers. The story is disturbing, yet needs to be told. It is filled with despair and suffering, yet also hope from within the human spirit.
Maria Full of Grace comes off as almost a documentary on drug trafficking in that we seem to have been granted an actual window into a world it is doubtful many of us can ever understand. There are no one dimensional villains. The druglord is tender and firm at the same time. The U.S. dealers are violent and heartless, but also nothing more than young men who have gotten sucked into an evil system.
Maria is the one true hero in the story, but a flawed one, and it is the flaws of all the characters, intermingled with humanity, that make Maria Full of Grace so true to life.