Collaborating for the first time, Benjamin Bratt stars in "La Mission," an earnest, well-intentioned, but ultimately too simplistic and flawed working-class melodrama, written and directed by his brother, Peter Bratt.
Thus far, with few exceptions, such as "Pinero," in which he embodied the noted poet-playwright Miguel Piñero, we have mostly seen Benjamin Bratt as second banana, in romantic comedies and other Hollywood features (Soderbergh's "Traffic"). In "La Mission," however, playing the lead, he gives a dominant performance as Che Rivera, a patriarchal man who grew up in the tough and rough Mission district of San Francisco
Always needing to be tough just to survive, Che's a powerful man respected in the Mission barrio for his masculinity, his strength, his code of ethics, and his talents, manifest in his hobby of building beautiful low-rider cars. At the same time, he’s a man feared for his street-tough ways and violent temper, traits that are product of his dubious past but are useful where he lives.
From the start, Che comes across as a flawed hero. A reformed inmate and a recovering alcoholic, he has worked hard to redeem his life and do right by his pride and joy, his only son, Jes. A single dad, he has raised Jess on his own after the untimely death of his wife.
However, like most rebellious adolescents, Jess is reserved, maintaining emotional and physical distance from his dad. We soon find out that he carries a chip on his shoulder, he 's gay, and doesn’t want his father to know, fearing his wrath.
Indeed, Che’s value system is shattered and tested, when he discovers Jes's sexual orientation. In a burst of uncontrollable rage, Che violently beats Jes, before disowning him–literally. What Che fails to realize that in losing his only son, he also loses himself, resulting in a lonely, isolated existence.
We have seen before this type of man—the Latino, self-sufficient macho—before and thus know that it's a matter of time before Che's decisions lead to suffering and then to redemption. He embarks on a familiar road that forces him to get to know himself better, including the realization that his patriarchal pride bears no meaning him. In trying to maintain his old notion of masculinity, Che has sacrificed the one thing he has cherished the most, the one thing that has kept him alive–his love of his son.
To survive his neighborhood, Che has always lived with his fists. However, more is required in order to survive as a "complete man," one guided by principles of humanism—greater social awareness, which among other things means embracing a side of himself he has never shown.
Wearing its liberal-humanist ideology on its sleeves, La Mission aims to achieve two goals, to present a heartfelt intergeneration drama of father and son, who have never known each other well, and also as a love letter to a uniquely American neighborhood, one that consists of various ethnic minorities and social classes.
That said, "La Mission" is utterly familiar and predictable from numerous plays and TV productions. Occasionally, the film looks and feels like a TV Movie of the Week, perhaps a function of its modest budget and of being a debut.
Obviously believing in the decency of the material, Benjamin Bratt does an honorable job as an actor and as one of the film's producers. "La Mission" is many ways a personal, perhaps even semi-biographical film: Peter and Benjamin Bratt were born in San Francisco and grew up in and around the city’s Mission district. The movie depicts a colorful neighborhood that's dominated by immigrants and low-income, working class families, but it also includes painters and poets, white hipsters, Latin boys, druggies and junkies.