★★★★ | The Mission
The Mission contains enough heart, energy and soul for any audience to forgive the rough around the edges finish. It outweighs many of its more polished, bigger competitors in its intentions and message.
Set in the Mission district of San Francisco, Che Rivera (Benjamin Bratt) is an admired, macho, tattooed and well respected man. Bus driver, single father, recovering alcoholic, ex con and spends his spare time fine-tuning his beloved customised ‘low rider’ (that’s a vintage automobile for the uninitiated). Living with him is his treasured only son Jesse (Jeremy Ray Valdez) who has a secret not yet told to his father. You start to understand why as the story progresses. Upstairs, Lena has just moved in. A strong, fiercely independent and earthy woman, who works at the shelter for abused women. Lena begins to fall for Che, until a side of him is revealed that she fears she’s seen the results of all too often at the shelter. Upon the discovery of his son’s sexuality Che violently disowns his son in a gritty on-street spat, a difficult, heartbreaking scene to watch in gay cinema; it tears the two apart. The neighbourhood, an audience to the event, learn about Jesse’s sexuality, which sends homophobic ripples through the Latino community. The writer’s intentions may have been to focus on the relationship between father and son, but overwhelmingly the focus falls on the Latino community, and how it might play a role in the way fathers treat their gay sons.
The story is told with truth and empathy for Che, Jesse and Lena; the casting is brilliant and crucially credible. Valdez, plays his Latino homosexuality with dignity, sensitivity and courage. His worry, isolation and the confinement of his sexuality is played exceptionally (I fell in love with his doey eyed, submissiveness.) Yet, strangely, we don’t hate his father – although we should. Instead we desperately want his father to understand and to accept. It could be clichéd, but it isn’t, we’re being allowed to participate in this bittersweet, intimate, father/son journey.
Che’s tolerance gets an invigorated jolt, when his son is attacked on the streets of Mission, but there are pot holes along the way. He refuses to accept Jesse’s boyfriend, who for all intents and purposes comes from a different planet; monied, middle class, educated and white. The stark opposition makes the relationship, at best, two-dimensional, a more powerful script may have demanded another Latino boy for real punch and grit.
Che, with the loving of a good woman (Lena), starts to welcome Jesse back into his life, but feels a little incongruous, in the respect that by satisfying Che’s love-life he is able to accept his son’s.
The language is sometimes simplistic and the resolution premature for it to really feel believable. I like my loose ends tied up – The Mission’s resolve feels clunky. However the theme and issues buried in this film are vitally important – the teenage ‘coming out story’ from – and for an entirely new generation. I applaud the movie makers for The Mission’s integrity, worth and ambition.
Available to buy / view on: Amazon