Review and Interview By: Mut Asheru (3 part interview below)
I never knew Benjamin Bratt had it in him. I suspected but never really knew until this moment what a dynamic talent this man is. Perhaps he knew he had to bring the thunder in order not to let his brother (writer/director/co-producer) Peter Bratt down. The family name is on the the line son!
In LA MISSION life is pretty much the same day after day for Che Rivera. He goes to work, raises his son as a single parent and works on his passion…reworking old cars into low riding masterpieces. Everything is flowing in a positive direction as his honor role son Jes (Jeremy Ray Valdez) heads towards graduation and college…then…BAM…dad finds photos of his gay son out having a good time with his boyfriend Jordan (Max Rosenak). What happens next is a redemptive tale of violence, downward spirals, love and acceptance.
At its base this independent film is about change and how we fight against it to our detriment. Che is pure old school throwback. He loves old music, old cars and his old neighborhood. Alpha males are supposed to produce other alpha males. Jes, being gay threatens Che’s sense of black and white and forces him into a world of gray in-betweens that is too much for him to take. We know this story has been told before but not in our hood. Its something that minorities just don’t deal with until it walks up and slaps us in the face.
They knocked the casting out the park with this one. Everyone, everyone even the young gangstar Nacho (Christopher Borgzinner) played their part to perfection. Bratt played Che with a prominence and swagger that elevated the character of Che to such heights it made his fall into grace that much more dramatic, heart-wrenching and believable. In life rarely is a fall something soft and delicate…he captures life brilliantly. Give him his Oscar now please. His performance was framed by the innocently tough portrayal of Jes by Jeremy Valdez who does what Will Smith said he regretted not doing…playing a gay role the way its supposed to be played. Yes, Valdez kissed a boy. Not a flame, Jes’s character had to be believable as a closet gay with just as much emotion as his tough father. Valdez (and his pretty brown eyes) does an excellent job of capturing your heart and will have you rooting for him to find love and acceptance from his father and the neighborhood for who he is. The two roles are tied and would not work without the other.
Outside this nucleus is the family and friends. Peter Bratt was smart to give Che a solid network of supporters. Che’s brother Rene (Jesse Borrego…yes from Fame and Blood In, Blood Out) has a back story that proves to be pivotal in helping Che ultimately accept his son. The back story is subtle but honest and well played by Borrego. Rene is strong but unobtrusive in that he lets his brother go through the fire while never letting go of his hand. Also there to hold his hand in a soft but strong way is his neighbor Lena (Erika Alexander) who not for one minute lets Che use his machoism to enter in to their relationship. She effectively and swiftly disarms him with her forthrightness. And she does it with the kind of calm a woman can get from only being 100 percent sure of who she is.
The crowning jewel of this film besides the actors is the well written script that gives us an honest look into the life of brown folk. The pacing is spacious; allowing the audience to assimilate the story in a relaxed and enjoyable flow. Cinematographer Hiro Narita, does an wonderful job of delivering a colorful and unflinching look in the Mission neighborhood.
All in all, I fell in love with each and every character in his film. Both good and bad. I fell in love with this neighborhood and their humanness. I have paid money out of my own pocket to see it twice…something a self-respecting reviewer never does…and tomorrow I will pay to see it again when I take my mother and son to see it. Hats off the the Bratts for giving us vulnerable heroes that we can pin our hopes on.