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Movie Review: “La Mission” with Benjamin Bratt

April 24, 2010

Sometimes I sit on an idea for a blog post for days.  It could be because I’m not sure if I really want to write about a topic, or I’m not sure if other people will be interested.  But this time, it’s because I simply wasn’t sure if I could do it justice.  But I’ll give it my best shot.

I first heard about  “La Mission” when I tuned into NPR and heard Benjamin Bratt’s sexy voice coming at me.  Soon another Bratt joined, his brother Peter.  They were describing the movie they had made (Peter directed, Benjamin stars) in order to honor the neighborhood where they grew up.  On Tuesday I went and saw the movie with a couple of good friends who also happen to be Latina.

I walked out of this movie thinking to myself, “This is why the genre of film exists.”  This extremely powerful story couldn’t have been told through any other medium (novel, play, etc.).

The shots of the city are fantastic, and it was fun pointing out all of places we frequent (and one of us saw her apartment!).  The interactions between the people in the city really conveyed that the neighborhood is just that – a neighborhood.  It has its own way of life.  And there are strong ties to the place in that some people never even leave, which is pretty crazy considering how small it is.

Beyond a tribute to the mostly Latino part of town, it’s a story about a single father, Che, who is confronted with one of the most difficult situations of his life (and homeboy’s been to prison): he finds out that his straitlaced, UCLA-bound, low rider-crazed son, Jesse, is gay.  It’s a painful scene when he confronts Jesse, and the rest of the movie revolves around the consequences of his son’s secret being out and Che’s struggle to figure out what he should do despite the deep betrayal he feels from his son.  Along the way, he develops a complicated relationship with his new neighbor, Lena, who has some secrets of her own.

I cannot give enough praise to acting skills of Benjamin Bratt and Jeremy Ray Valdez, who plays Jesse.  (Sidenote, he’s 30 and can play an 18 year-old…whoa.)  I could feel the pain on both of their parts and it felt raw and exposed.  In addition, it was nice to see the ways in which men support each other through life’s moments – from asking the cute neighbor on a date to knowing what to do when it feels like you’ve lost a son. It truly showed the complicated nature of the Latino culture – it’s hard to deny that “machismo” plays a role in a Mexican father’s inability to accept a gay son, but it’s that same culture that supplies the family-like support system when these life-shattering events happen.

And this adds to what I think is one of the most poignant aspects of the film.  Even though Bratt plays the typical old gangster that many Latino actors are forced to play in mainstream movies, we get to see the emotions behind his decisions, the motivations that have led him to where he is, and how he wants so much better for his son.  At one point in the movie, we see a woman crying for her dead son, who plays a one-dimensional “thug” type.  But this is what people outside of neighborhoods like the Mission need to know: even when a gang kid dies, his mother still cries.

All in all, I think just about everyone would get something out of this movie.  From those who just want to see really cool low rider cars hop on hydraulics, to those who know what it’s like to keep a secret, to those who’ll be happy to see a new reflection of Latino culture.

I’m sure you won’t be surprised…I give it FIVE out of FIVE stars.  Watch the trailer below:

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