Directed By: Peter Bratt
Written By: Peter Bratt
Produced By: Benjamin Bratt, Peter Bratt, Alpita Patel
Cast: Benjamin Bratt, Jeremy Ray Valdez, Erika Alexander, Jesse Borrego, Christopher Borgzinner, Max Rosenak
MPAA Rating: R
Runtime: 117 minutes
Release Date: July 9, 2010
Review Date: July 9, 2010
There’s a conflicted character, and then there’s Che Rivera (Benjamin Bratt, solid enough for what he’s given), original gangster who spent some time in jail but now drives a bus and is a single father to a teenage son. His son, Jesse (Jeremy Ray Valdez), is his best friend. They both love renovating classic cars into lowriders and parading them through the Mission District of San Francisco.
Lately, Jesse has been distant — less likely to join his dad on those late-night processions through the street. It’s a study group, he tells Che. Che doesn’t think much of it.
Then, one night, after taking off his son’s boots and covering him in a blanket, Che notices pictures on Jesse’s nightstand. They are of his son and another boy, at a club, shirtless, and kissing.
Thus starts Che’s development by writer/director Peter Bratt into a wishy-washy character, the type who disowns his son for being gay but waits until the next day to do so. There’s no reason for it, except that it allows for the first of a few scenes of Che having a sleepless night, letting us know for sure that he’s tortured by the knowledge of his son’s sexuality and his own inability to reconcile that fact with the identity of his boy.
Che is the only resident of the Mission District, apart from an antagonistic young thug (Christopher Borgzinner), who has an active problem with Jesse’s revelation. Everyone else in the neighborhood exists to give Che advice about one of two things: accepting his son in every facet of the kid’s life, or how to win over the affection of his neighbor, Lena (Erika Alexander), a social worker who has the preternatural ability to walk in on Che at his most violent moments. Whether Che is tackling Jesse in the street after the kid talks back to him or pinning his son’s lover (Max Rosenak) against the wall of the hospital hallway because the boy spends the night watching over Jesse, Lena appears, ready with a judgmental look and later with a speech about not wanting to get involved with Che any further. It’s a shallow, if convenient, device for adding on conflict.
Jesse runs away to his uncle Rene’s (Jesse Borrego) house, where his aunt and cousins are, in the vein of everyone else in the movie, completely accepting of Jesse’s sexual orientation. Rene talks with Che, and Che lets Jesse back in the house where things go back to normal. Che cooks his son breakfast, invites him to play some basketball down at the courts, and brings him along on his car parade date with Lena. Everything between the two is well and good, until it isn’t. Peter Bratt’s script finds little reason to bring back Che’s discomfort with and rage at his son’s sexuality, but it must, randomly, every so often for more redundant conflict.
Actual ramifications of Che’s behavior are belittled. Lena has personal and professional experience with abusive men, sees Che fitting the mold of one, and brings it up occasionally. She just can’t resist his eyes, though, which make her feel sad when she brings up Jesse. This curt dismissal of her character into a weak-willed love interest, ready to bake Che cookies and go to bed with him when he’s feeling particularly down, isn’t the most dishonest part of the movie.
That dubious honor might go to the movie’s portrayal of violence, which is an obvious, inevitable event from the moment Che learns about his son as the score shifts into dissonant strain. The young thug confronts Jesse and his boyfriend walking down the street, resulting in a tidy shooting — the victim remains standing, the camera slowly pans down to reveal a spot of red here and there. It’s all presented as a minor inconvenience for the characters. The question is not one of survival but of being able to attend graduation.
Not even this brings Che to his senses, and at a certain point, after so many trials and failures on his part, it becomes clear nothing will. People around him start to understand that reality and abandon him to his own misery, but writer/director Bratt seems unable to do so. So the movie finds final hope in Che’s umpteenth awakening, a moment in which even the homophobic thug teaches him a lesson.
Full of tediously consistent or arbitrarily inconsistent characters, La Mission is unsuccessful as a personal drama and almost irresponsible as a social one.
Mark Dujsik is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Online Film Critics Society. For more of his reviews, visit his website.