Friday, July 9, 2010
Bratt Boys in the Barrio
“LA Mission” is an entirely different family film that is about family, but not necessarily for the family.
Benjamin Bratt stars (and co-produces) and his brother Peter wrote and directed the story of a single father’s difficult relationship with his teenage son.
Benjamin Bratt normally plays handsome leading man types, but for this ethic fable he grew a Van Dyke beard and covered his body with what I hope are temporary tattoos to play Che Rivera, ruler of the roost in his tough, poor Hispanic Mission District of San Francisco.
Che (his first name is probably no coincidence) is an ex-con and recovering alcoholic who found Jesus while in prison. Now he drives a bus and lectures young hoodlums on how to behave. His big passion is his “low rider,” a beautiful, ornately-painted 1941 Cherolet. Every weekend Che and his fellow low riders perform a very slow parade through town.
Che is not exactly close to his only son Jes (Jeremy Ray Valdez), who does not share Che’s religious fervor, his self-discipline or love of old cars. Not long after the arrival of a sexy new neighbor, an African-American healthnik named Lena (Erika Alexander), Che discovers a suggestive photo of Jes with his Anglo boyfriend Jordan (Max Rosenak).
If this weren’t bad enough, it is not long before someone spray-paints “faggot” on Che’s garage door.
Che is homophobic not just because of his “mas macho” Latin machismo; he feels homosexuality is an insult to God. “LA Mission” is the long (almost two hours) tortuous road to reconciliation between father and son, and a hard-fought moral lesson to a man who has always held rigid beliefs.
This is perhaps the most powerful performance Benjamin Bratt has ever delivered, and it is extraordinarily brave because it dares criticize a very proud culture and a very powerful Catholic Church.