STUDIO: Screen Media
RUNNING TIME: 117 minutes
- The Music of La Mission
Benjamin and Peter Bratt throw a sneaky little curveball of emotion.
Benjamin Bratt, Jeremy Ray Valdez, Erika Alexander. Written and directed by Peter Bratt.
Benjamin Bratt is Che Rivera – a tough widower and recovering alcoholic living in San Francisco’s mission district. When Rivera discovers his son Jesse (Jeremy Ray Valdez) is leading a secret life, he struggles between his love for his son and his own prejudice.
Judging books by their covers? Apparently we’re not supposed to do that. This film is a great example of that whole idiom. Looking at the artwork with its bearded Benny Bratt cruising in his low-rider and its tattooed lettering gave me the impression of a very different film than the one I watched. This type of artwork is usually reserved for films involving overwrought drama concerning gangland warfare, or convicts trying to make right. They’re also films that by focusing on certain demographics can feel alienating to anyone outside that target demographic. La Mission is not one of those films. La Mission is an intimate film whose focus on the character’s personal concerns transcends the neighborhood of its namesake.
Everyone loves Olympia Dukakis in their own way.
Jesse Rivera is indeed living a secret life that shocks his father: that of a homosexual. To watch Che come to terms with his son’s sexuality is the core of the film, and it’s an interesting and moving process to watch. It’s also an unexpected subject for such a film. Che and Jesse live in an area whose lifeblood seems to be traditional masculinity, and this causes the most conflict in the film. Early in the film it is shown that Che is a sensitive, caring man. He cares for his neighbors, friends and family. In one poignant scene he finds Jesse in bed fully clothed and removes his son’s shoes and tucks him into bed. But there is Che’s sensitivity that is acceptable as a widowed father, and then there is homosexuality. One is acceptable, the other not. Che has shrines to traditional masculinity: his garage where he works on his custom low-riders is covered in pictures of Clint Eastwood and Marlon Brando in The Godfather.
When Che first learns of Jesse’s sexuality, he is upset and the conflict – and concurrently the healing – begins. The film, however, somehow avoids a tedious feeling of “Learn your lesson already,” during its near 2-hour runtime. It never feels as if it’s overstayed its welcome or taken too much time to move through each character’s evolution. It contains enough sensitivity and nuance to avoid feeling too much like an afterschool special about acceptance. When Che finally learns his lesson and experiences his change of heart (Spoiler, I guess, even though with a film such as this it’s obvious it is going to happen it’s just a matter of how) it is earned, and its catalyst is one that is grounded in culture and tradition making its deep emotional nature realistic.
I’m pretty sure he’s using that wrong.
Benjamin Bratt is the best of the cast here. He gives a completely vulnerable and human performance, which is a feat. It is not easy to play a character so tough while remaining vulnerable. I’m pretty sure that for the opening of the film he and his brother created an all-new strut-cam in order to capture the full majesty of his gait and stride. The rest of the cast does not fare as well. The best after Bratt is Erika Alexander as the neighbor/semi-love interest for Che Lena. She does well with what she has to work with. Jeremy Ray Valdez is serviceable as Jesse, fumbling certain dramatic moments with slight overacting, but nothing too terrible. His boyfriend, an Adam Scott look-a-like played by first-timer Max Rosenak actually does much better. The rest of the cast ranges from fine to awkwardly stiff.
The film was obviously filmed digital, and it shows. The camerawork is television quality throughout with a few standout moments. For example, one shot of Jesse in the beginning looking at his fractured reflection and seeing two people looking back at him is a nice looking shot while also conveying much about the character. Other than these few brief moments the camerawork is simply functional, never doing much. (Except for at times becoming claustrophobic – and not on purpose) There’s also a decent use of music in the film. I mean, we’re not speaking of Scorsese, Tarantino or Wes Anderson level use here, but it does give a good sense of environment and character. A few needle-drops are a too on-the-nose (The sequence where Che and Lena go for a slow ride is scored by The Stylistics singing “Stop. Look. Listen to your heart and what it’s saying.” Ok. We get it) the music does create a nice ambience. (Even though much of it seems like the rejected pile of the Jackie Brown soundtrack)
The weekly poker game of stereotypes was the best part of Ramon’s week.
The film, though, is really a love letter to the barrio in which it’s set. You can feel Peter Bratt’s pride for the neighborhood in which he was raised. It’s a nice peek inside a culture to which I am an outsider. It seems to capture very well the humanity that inhabits every corner of these culturally rich areas. One of my favorite moments of the film is as Che and his friends prepare for a low and slow cruise through the streets of San Francisco. A friend says to another, “Ana says what’s up, and she needs her Tupperware.” It’s a brief human moment in which could have been a sequence full of stiff stereotypes. It’s this love and passion for the people and the neighborhood that permeates the film and makes it all the more enjoyable.
La Mission is not a Great (with a capital G) film, but is a very good film. Focused in on universal human emotion and filled with compassion for its characters and setting, La Mission is an unexpectedly enjoyable and emotional film.
Further proof that all the best films end like Showgirls.
The DVD comes with one special feature: A 15-minute documentary on the music within the film. It’s an interesting look at the music, revealing the very great amount of care placed on the music used in the film. It covers the original score of various world instruments, to the soundtrack choices all the way to the sound mixing. Other than that, the disc is bare bones.
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