Saturday, April 10, 2010

"La Mission" - Movie Review

On Wednesday night, April 7, 2010, I saw a drama called La Mission in my movie class; it stars Benjamin Bratt of "Law & Order" TV fame and was written and directed by his brother, Peter. 


When an old school Latino ex-convict from the streets of San Francisco's Mission District learns that his teenage son is gay, will he still be able to maintain their relationship?


Che Rivera (Bratt) has had a tough life -- after growing up in the rough streets of the poor Latino neighborhood of San Francisco known as La Mission (The Mission District), he's done time in prison and emerged as a better man ... or has he?  A widower, he's had to raise his son Jesse all by himself for years, somehow managing to eke out a living as a city bus driver.  Every day is a struggle not only financially, but emotionally -- Che is also a recovering alcoholic who's liable to tip over the edge at any moment of stress ... and little does he know that the most stressful event in his life is about to occur.  A top student in high school, Jesse's dilligence has earned him a spot in college -- soon to graduate and study away from home at UCLA, his future looks bright until Che learns that his son has been leading a secret life as a homosexual and has long had a boyfriend ... a wealthy white one, at that!

Confronting his son about his secret life, emotions boil over and things get physical -- Che winds up throwing out Jesse, who winds up living with family friends for a while until Lena, a tenant in the same apartment building as Che, convinces him to take Jesse back.  Eventually, Jesse returns, but Che admits that he still has issues with his son's lifestyle, so they maintain a very fragile truce for a while.  Meanwhile, Che and Lena begin to carve out a very tentative friendship with each other, which ultimately appears as though it may turn romantic.  As Jesse continues to live with his father, it becomes evident that others in this neighborhood similarly feel antagonistic towards the gay community and begin to threaten both Che and his son.  One night, while Jesse and his boyfriend are headed towards a gay - friendly nightclub, they are met by a gang who physically confront the two -- while Jesse wants to back down because he knows how ugly things can get, his friend instead chooses to stand up to the young punks ... which results in Jesse getting shot.

Rushed to a hospital, Jesse's life initially hangs in the balance.  Trying his best to play the role of the supportive dad, Che visits him regularly -- but when he discovers that Jesse's lover is there, too, he confronts the young man and threatens him, ordering him to stay away from his son.  Coincidentally, this happens to be witnessed by Lena, who decides then and there that Che is not capable of changing who he is and decides not to pursue any further relationship with him.  After a while, Jesse recovers and is allowed to return home.  Although Che is glad to have his son return healthy, their relations take a turn for the worse when Jesse learns of Che's confrontation with his lover.  At this point, Jesse leaves his father, choosing to live with his friend and turn his back on his father forever -- but will Che be able to sufficiently redeem himself in the eyes of his son and repair their relationship?


While the majority of the class seemed to really appreciate this movie, I really couldn't get on the ride at all and I'm not exactly sure why.  If I had to pinpoint it, I'd have to say that the screenplay was the major obstacle, at least for me.  First and foremost, there was the dialog -- some of it was downright cliche as far as I'm concerned and I found way too much of it to be very derivative (the writer/director, Bratt's brother, was clearly a big fan of "Animal House").  Second, I would have to say the resolution was very unsatisfying, at least for me, anyway.  Ultimately, the "hero" needs to be able to confront the "villain" and either beat him or not.  I definitely did not get the sense that this happened in the end of this movie -- the protagonist (Che) was way too passive and things just seemed to happen to him.

Benjamin Bratt's recognition value is certainly enough to get this movie some degree of distribution and notoriety.  Having said that, however, it really does seem to me to be nothing more than a vanity piece, especially when you consider the fact that his collaborator on this film was his own brother, Peter.  As Bratt ages, he appears to be trying to leverage his good looks and fame (both from "Law & Order" and his long ago relationship with ex - flame Julia Roberts) into career gold.  He may find it, possibly even with this movie.  But based on what I saw Wednesday night, I can't recommend it, despite the fact that the rest of the class seemed rather enthusiastic.

The post - screening interview was with The Bratt Brothers, Benjamin and Peter.  Clearly, they both have rather charming personalities and Benjamin's good looks certainly won over a significant majority of the female members of the audience.  They spoke about the shoestring budget of the movie (only $2.5 million) and the rather aggressive shooting schedule that resulted (less than 30 days).  While they championed the film as something to show support of both Hispanic and gay rights, I can't really see anyone getting on board with this movie, which opens in select regions this weekend and with a wider release scheduled for next weekend.