Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Che, as played by Benjamin Bratt in this movie ‘La Mission’ is a good man. He has his problems such as his continuing fight with alcoholism and he has some anger management issues he struggles with which we are sure played a part in him having to do some time back in the day, but he has all of that under control. He has a good job as bus driver here in the greater San Francisco area, he loves and cares for the community he lives in, that being the Mission District of San Francisco, he is respected in the neighborhood and cherished by his friends. More importantly Che has done a fantastic job in raising his teenage son Jesse (Jeremy Ray Valdez) who is respectful, intelligent and will be heading down the freeway to UCLA next fall. It’s all good. Che doesn’t have a woman at the moment though one would think that his lovely new neighbor Lena (Erika Alexander) the earthy bike riding social worker could be a good candidate, but mutual admiration isn’t exactly what these two strong willed characters are feeling for each other right now.

The problem is that young Jesse is hiding something from his father. Jesse is in love. With another dude. Jesse’s boyfriend Jordan (Max Rosenak) is of the mind that Jesse should be honest with his father but that’s crazy talk right there because Jesse knows better. Thus one might find it curious that Jesse allowed some of his gay party Polaroid pictures to cross the threshold of his home on the off chance that his old man might accidentally stumble upon those gay party Polaroid pictures.

Che stumbles upon those gay party Polaroid pictures. To say that finding these pictures made Che unhappy would be a little bit understatement as the physical confrontation he had with his son tumbles out into the street and now everybody in San Francisco knows that Jesse is gay. I know this is SanFran and all and you wouldn’t think that such an admission wouldn’t be a big deal, but in the predominately Latin Mission District… it’s a big deal.

Jesse moves out and goes to live with his uncle Rene (Jesse Borrego) and his aunt Ana (Talisa Soto) who are far more understanding than his father, a father who has no idea how to deal with this. He loves his boy but he hates what his son is. The only positive to come out of this whole ordeal is that his pretty neighbor has started to warm towards him a little since she has some experience in dealing with emotional pain, but there is still something deep within Che that forces Lena to keep him at arms length.

Then something bad happens to Jesse which causes his father to confront what he is dealing with head on. One would hope that this thing would unite father and son, imparting lessons on how short and how fleeting life can be, but this thing didn’t make Jesse any less gay. Only that bottle of gin understands what Che is going through.

‘La Mission’, directed by Benjamin Bratt’s brother Peter, is an interesting film that is propelled forward by a very well realized performance from Benjamin Bratt. With Che, Bratt brings a powerful intensity and multiple layers of complexity to his character. Che is passionate, he’s loyal, he’s unreasonable, he’s fearless, he’s hateful in addition to many more emotional layers and Bratt is able to embody and convey all of the different facets that constructs this complex character.

It’s a good thing that Benjamin Bratt was so good in this movie because his powerful performance almost covers up a few problems I saw in ‘La Mission’ that being the sketchiness of the characters in this movie not played by Benjamin Bratt and a narrative that had more than a few plot points that felt contrived. As an example take Erika Alexander, whom we love here at the FCU, and her character of Lena. It seemed to us that there was so much more to this character to be examined but for the most part her character remained a mystery. This didn’t stop the progression of the relationship between Lena and Che, as played out in this movie, from feeling like a real and tangible thing however, and personally I would’ve preferred a little more of that and a little less of the primary focus of this film, that being Che’s violent reaction to his son’s homosexuality and the subsequent events if only because those set of plot points seemed to follow a predetermined path. We know when we meet the thug character he will be responsible action X which will lead to situation Y culminating in confrontation Z. Z being Che trying to choke his son’s boyfriend, theory being this guy made him gay. This also introduces us to the boyfriends amazing set of parents whose understanding overcompensates for Che’s hostility something fierce. Personally I wouldn’t let the girlfriend of my high school aged son live in my house much less his gay lover. I’d find these people a place to stay, but they cannot stay here. But that’s just me.

All that being said I still enjoyed ‘La Mission’ despite its shortcomings. A great performance from Benjamin Bratt framed around the directors visual love letter to the neighborhood, the people and the art of the cruise made this movie more than worthwhile.

Real Time Web