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La Mission (2009)

A movie directed by Peter Bratt

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I Didn't Choose to Be This Way

  • Jul 9, 2010
  • by
Rating:
+4
Che Rivera (Benjamin Bratt) defines himself not merely by his ethnic and spiritual culture, but also by street culture, growing up tough and maintaining that image on a daily basis. Living in the Mission district of San Francisco, he earns the respect of his neighbors by being the very definition of masculinity: Physically strong, emotionless except for anger, able to finish a fight should one start. He's also passionate about restoring classic cars, a hobby that requires intensive manual labor. He has served time in prison, but he's now working towards reforming himself. He has quit drinking. He earns a living as a bus driver. He wants to do right by his teenage son, Jes (Jeremy Ray Valdez), who he's had to raise on his own since the death of his wife. Jes is a high school honor student who will soon graduate and head south to attend college at UCLA. Che has every reason to be proud of him.

But Jes has a secret. He's gay. He doesn't know when or how he's going to tell his father. For the time being, he assumes, he will continue making school-related excuses for staying out late. Che discovers his son's secret entirely by accident, unleashing a torrent of anger that leads to a public fistfight and Jes being kicked out of his home. His son can't possibly be gay. There is, after all, a reason God created men and women. Why would he choose to be something that's so clearly wrong? Is Che being punished for his past sins? His best friend and fellow car enthusiast recounts how he asked himself the same thing when his sickly son was hospitalized. He also tells Che that, in the end, he was just glad that his son was alive. Che eventually lets Jes move back in, although we quickly realize that he hasn't really come to terms with anything. He's merely pretending that Jes is something he isn't.

As father and son walk on eggshells around each other, Che begins a relationship with his new neighbor Lena (Erika Alexander), who's a caring and supportive staple at an abused woman's shelter. At the same time, she's headstrong and saddled with emotional baggage, the latter qualities revealing themselves as their attraction grows physical. Is it possible for her to love a man with such a terrible history? She's seen his kind before - violent men who have no healthy outlet for their anger. Is it possible for him realize that his macho reputation isn't getting him anywhere? And can she get him to see things from a different angle when it comes to his son?

One could ask these questions all day long. But you know how men like Che are. They're stubborn. They live by an unspoken but well-understood street code. And homosexuality is a concept completely outside their range of comprehension. This is perhaps a bit broad, but Bratt manages to make his character convincing, mostly in the way he navigates the emotional range; Che can be volatile, but there are also times when he's great to be around, especially when he's with his low-rider buddies. It's also interesting to watch him around Jes - the anger, the embarrassment, the denial that allows him to treat his son with some degree of respect.

We know, of course, that the problem lies not with Jes but with Che, which means he will spend the rest of the film working towards accepting his son for who he is. One of the film's more interesting approaches is that it's told from the father's perspective; it's not about the son reaching out to the father, but the father having to learn how to reach out to the son, if such a thing is even possible. It's about Che having to deal with himself before dealing with Jes. It's about coming to terms with an image that may not have much to do with the person inside. Of course, this also presents some problems, namely that it's awfully one-sided. Jes, as depicted, is so decent and likeable that he he's obviously in service of the film's message. Why couldn't he be just as flawed as his father? What if he realized he was prejudiced towards straight people?

Or what about Jes' lover, Jordan (Max Rosenak)? He's an all-around pleasant guy from an affluent and supportive family, although that's pretty much the extent to which he's developed. Is there nothing more we can learn about him? Does he not have his own insecurities or weaknesses or intolerances to sort through? I began to wonder all this late in the film, when he and Che have ... an encounter; while the intent of this scene is clear, the execution comes off as overbearing. Much like Jes, Jordan is merely a plot device, solely created as a way for the filmmakers to get a point across. This could have been a great movie had it not been so insistent on telling us something we've heard many times before. As it stands, "La Mission" is a good movie, lacking complexity but livened up with an engaging story and believable performances.

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More La Mission (2009 movie) reviews
review by . August 11, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Writer/director Peter Bratt had the choice in LA MISSION to make a film about the Hispanic culture in San Francisco's Mission district to create a predictable imitation of life or a sensitive study of a culture with all of its beauty and with all of its problems: gratefully he took the latter. This is a film bursting with fantastic color from the inimitable clash of pigments used for the interiors of the homes of this culture to the fantasyland carefully restored old cars painted with religious …
review by . May 29, 2010
"La Mission"            Tradition, Family and Rage            Amos Lassen        It is not often that we get a film of brilliance like we get in "La Mission" and this is all due to Benjamin Bratt who does a beautiful, or should I say, gorgeous, job piece of acting in his portrayal of a complex, tortured conservative Latino who is pushed to …
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Chris Pandolfi ()
Ranked #5
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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Wiki

For this affecting labor of love, Peter Bratt focuses on a Latino widower with rigid views on masculinity. A bus driver covered in tattoos, Che Rivera (the filmmaker's brother, Benjamin Bratt) lives in San Francisco's Mission District with his son, Jes (Jeremy Ray Valdez). A recovering alcoholic who customizes low-riders on the side, Che takes pride in the high school senior's academic achievements, but he doesn't take kindly to homosexuals--and has no clue about Jes's secret life until he finds the photographic evidence. As expected, he gets upset, but Jes's insulting defense only makes matters worse and leads Che to kick him out. While Jes stays with relatives until things cool down, Che tries to resist the bottle, but word travels fast in a close-knit community, and the personal becomes political when bullies hassle the Riveras, leaving Che to consider revenge. Lena (the radiant Erika Alexander), a concerned neighbor who works at a women's shelter, tries to help father and son mend fences, but there's only so much she can do. She's also interested in Che, and he in her, but their personalities present a more significant obstacle than race or culture. In less adept hands,La Missioncould've become a preachy soap opera, but despite a few creaky plot mechanics, Bratt's attention to detail ensures that his characters register more as sympathetic individuals than stereotypes. He's aided in his efforts by strong performances, ...
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Details

Director: Peter Bratt
Genre: Drama
MPAA Rating: R
DVD Release Date: August 10, 2010
Runtime: 117 minutes
Studio: Screen Media
First to Review
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