Thursday, June 17, 2010

La mission *1/2

Director: Peter Bratt
Cast: Benjamin Bratt
Jeremy Ray Valdez, Max Rosenak, Erika Alexander
Jesse Borrego, Talisa Soto

It takes charisma to make a misogynist worthy of sympathy and that's just what Benjamin Bratt does in La mission. Proving that his worth as an actor goes beyond the enviable physique and a killer smile, he brings actual humanity to Che Rivera, a reformed, widower convict trying to deal with his recent discovery that his son Jesse (Valdez) is gay.
Being Mexican-American and into cars, it's "obvious" that he doesn't take it that well; we never really know what landed him in prison originally but it certainly wasn't his tolerance. Therefore we see Che trying to solve everything with punching, screaming and potential drinking (he's also a reformed alcoholic of course).
But despite the movie's constant attempts to make Che seem like a beast getting ready to learn about love, Bratt goes above the script and suggests a rich backstory he probably had to make up for his character.
His movements recall a wounded animal and his eyes, whether filled with anger or fear (as they usually are when Che romances his neighbor played by Alexander), reveal more than the whole movie could ever do.
In fact Bratt is the only thing that makes La mission watchable. This is a film so confused about the point it's trying to make that it believes the best way to handle it is mix several stories and pray that one of them will make sense.
Therefore we have Che's inner study, an examination of Latino culture in America, an essay on gang violence that makes Gran Torino look subtle, a ridiculous coming of age and coming out parable and a "throwback" to family films.
The truth is that the director can't handle a single of those subjects and proves there's not a single cliché he doesn't love.
Take the neighbor for example, not only is she referred to as a "hipster" by Che but we never have any doubt she's anything other than one. She's dressed in the latest hippie styles, glows when thinking of feng shui, is always carrying a plant or talking about organic stuff and works at a shelter. Like her, almost every other character in the film (as played by the corresponding actors) is a caricature, someone straight out of a sitcom.
Jesse's boyfriend Jordan (Rosenak) in the same way is portrayed like a character from a CW show that ended having a forbidden romance with someone outside his class (their story would've made a compelling film perhaps...).
And if his depiction isn't silly enough, there's also the whole way in which the director handles homosexuality.
In the first scenes when we know nothing about Jesse's secret, we're set up to believe he's leading a life of crime; so when he kisses another guy there will be a collective "oh, he's not a criminal, he's just gay!" sigh of relief across the audience.
Because obviously being gay and being a murderer are similar in some twisted world view. But the movie can't really be accused of homophobia because in latter scenes we're explicitly told that there are things worse than being gay, like the Iraq war and racist immigration policies.
If there's something this movie can be accused of is utter lack of tact, perhaps because it just doesn't know any better.
In its ridiculous way of playing out like a reactionary after school special made during the 1950's, it's just telling us that for its makers ignorance will always be bliss.

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