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La Mission -- Film Review

Benjamin Walker
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PARK CITY -- A heartfelt production from brothers Benjamin and Peter Bratt about the San Francisco neighborhood where they grew up, "La Mission" is an honest attempt to portray the destructiveness of violence in the Latino community. Anchored by Benjamin Bratt's charismatic performance, the film offers a compelling insider's view of a culture foreign to most moviegoers. Nonetheless, it will be a tough sell to a crossover audience and might be more at home on diverse cable outlets.

As Che Rivera, Bratt is a patriarch of the Mission district. When not at his day job driving a city bus, he's doing good deeds for his neighbors and upholding the code of honor he learned growing up. Unfortunately, built into that code is a fierce machismo and explosive anger. Bratt is especially good at showing how his character can turn on a dime, going from a gentle soul to a dangerous man.

Che is a single father who has a loving relationship with his teenage son, Jess (Jeremy Ray Valdez), until he learns the boy is gay. Despite the liberalness of the surrounding city, the Mission District is a place of traditional Latino and Native American values, and homosexuality is not one of them.

The revelation brings out the dark side of Che's character, and he reacts the only way he knows -- violently. Father and son fight on the street, and the secret becomes public knowledge. Che is too old-school to accept his son's sexuality, and the rift seems irreparable. His anger creeps into every area of his life and gets in the way of a budding attraction to his new neighbor (Erika Alexander) and even his love for the low-rider cars he custom-builds.

Not everyone in the community is intolerant: Che's brother Rene (Jesse Borrego) is surprised but accepting and takes Jess in. But others in the neighborhood are not as open-minded, and Jess becomes the subject of ridicule and finally an attack.

Most of Che's violent tendencies are just below the surface, channeled into pummeling a boxing bag or kicking noisy kids off his bus. When he finds out his son is gay, it becomes a catalyst for the filmmakers to explore his values and those of a changing community rife with contradictions.

The Mission is presented as a neighborhood in transition, and by sharing its story, the Bratts clearly hope to create a more open environment. Their heart is in the right place, and their tale is colorful, complete with Indian dancers in ceremonial costumes dancing on a street corner. But Peter Bratt's direction is a bit heavy-handed, hammered further by overused music and obvious songs. The film would have been more powerful and effective with judicious cuts to its 117-minute running time.

Cinematography by Hiro Narita and production design by Keith Neely capture the look and feel of the Mission, and local actors are well used. The Bratts obviously know the territory, and the film is bursting with energy -- sometimes too much, in fact.

Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Jason Kempin/Getty Images

Production: 5 Stick Films, TomKat Films
Cast: Benjamin Bratt, Erika Alexander, Jeremy Ray Valdez, Jesse Borrego, Talisa Soto Bratt
Director-screenwriter: Peter Bratt
Producers: Benjamin Bratt, Peter Bratt, Alpita Patel
Executive producers: Tom Steyer, Kat Taylor, Dan Nelson
Director of photography: Hiro Narita
Music: Mark Kilian
Production designer: Keith Neely
Costume designer: Aggie Rodgers
Editor: Stan Webb
No rating, 117 minutes