Without the stunning, serenely revealing face of lead actress Catalina Sandino Moreno, Joshua Marston’s Maria Full of Grace might be nothing more than a glorified example of manipulative melodrama. Marston’s potentially sensational story concerns Maria (Marston), a young Columbian girl who – faced with a dead-end life working at an exploitive flower factory and living with a parasitic mother and sister – cuts and runs to Bogota, where she becomes recruited as a “mule” to smuggle small baggies of cocaine in her stomach into New York City. Maria’s harrowing journey to America is fraught with nerve-wracking tension, as one of her fellow mules (Guilied Lopez’s Lucy) becomes sick, immigration authorities express suspicion about her travel plans, and the threat of murder becomes all-too-real. Marston’s depiction of the societal factors that compel Maria (and girls like her) to risk imprisonment and death for financial gain is somewhat facile, and his plotting eventually becomes overcrowded with peripheral characters and dilemmas that interfere with the film’s humanistic depiction of the immigrant plight and its touching celebration of the American dream. Ultimately, however, Maria Full of Grace belongs to Moreno, whose captivatingly calm countenance – highlighted by her large, absorbing eyes and quivering mouth – unaffectedly expresses not only the burdensome strain created by Maria’s daunting odyssey, but also the epiphanous euphoria of realizing that swallowing drugs, by granting her access to the freedom and opportunities of the U.S.A., was a transcendent act of communion.