Director Peter Bratt's La Mission played on only a handful of screens back in April, but looks to find new life in home theaters. The director's brother, Benjamin Bratt, stars as Che Rivera, an ex-con and recovering alcoholic living in San Francisco's vibrant Mission District. Rivera wants to bolster his relationship with son Jesse before he goes to UCLA, but is blindsided by the revelation that Jesse is gay. At times melodramatic, La Mission is nonetheless an earnest look at Rivera's struggle to overcome his prejudice and support his son.
Despite his hard-living past, Rivera is a prominent member of his tight-knit community, and is often found playing pick-up basketball with his buddies or working on lowriders with his son. Rivera is disgusted when he finds pictures of Jesse and his boyfriend, and violently confronts his son in front of half the neighborhood. Jesse goes to live with his uncle, but a hateful slur painted on Rivera's garage is a stark reminder that Jesse will face much more than his father's disapproval.
La Mission is only director Peter Bratt's second film, but he has a keen eye toward the district's Chicano culture, and the shiny lowriders, driving music and Aztec dancers become characters themselves. When Jesse's sexuality is revealed, invitations to participate in these community activities are rescinded by many, and Jesse becomes the target of several neighborhood thugs. Despite Rivera's insistence that homosexuality is unnatural, his friends are more open-minded and see through Rivera's excuses for not inviting Jesse to play basketball or cruise in his lowrider.
The prejudice in La Mission is not subtle, and the movie is occasionally too bombastic for its own good, giving Rivera chance after chance to prove he will never change. At times, Jesse is almost too apologetic for his actions, though this rings more frustrating than false, and La Mission is admirable for tackling its subject matter in a manner that is both entertaining and enlightening. The film goes further by discussing gentrification, interracial relationships and environmentalism, but does so unpretentiously.
Benjamin Bratt, best known for his work on Law and Order, sinks into the role of Rivera, giving an excellent performance. Jeremy Ray Valdez, who plays Jesse, shares a likeness with Bratt, and expertly plays Jesse without stereotypical mannerisms. The rest of the cast, including Erika Alexander as Rivera's neighbor and love interest, is diverse and similarly strong. Director Peter Bratt also keeps the film tight, and only allows it to stumble a bit in the last reel with a protracted conclusion. The cinematography of colorful San Francisco by Hiro Narita is beautiful and adds a lot to La Mission.
If you can get past some of the melodrama, La Mission is an entertaining and sincere social commentary that provides no easy answers. The filmmakers avoid a trite, quick redemption of Rivera, instead opting for a more realistic depiction of a character struggling to overcome his core beliefs. La Mission is certainly worth checking out.
Screen Media presents La Mission on DVD with a stunning 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that captures the vibrant colors and detail of the film's San Francisco setting. Detail is excellent all around, with wide shots and close-ups both looking sharp and clear. Blacks are dark and crisp, colors are bold and skin tones are natural. I noticed no edge enhancement or digital noise reduction, and compression artifacts were not an issue. I only noticed a small dip in image quality in the final scenes, though this may have been a production issue and not related to the transfer. The DVD transfer of La Mission is one of the best I've seen.
The film's lively Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is strong, handling the dialogue, effects and music with ease. Music and ambient effects are very important to the film, and the soundtrack frequently calls on the surround speakers and subwoofer. I noticed no distortion or balancing issues. An English Dolby Digital 2.0 track is also available, as are English and Spanish subtitles.
Only one extra feature is included on the disc, but it is a good one. "Music of La Mission" (18:03) is an interesting featurette on the film's soundtrack. Featuring interviews with the cast and crew, the piece details how director Peter Bratt wanted the film's soundtrack to capture the spirit of the Mission District. A surprisingly large number of instruments and performers were used to get it right. While this is not a true making-of documentary, it is worth watching.
La Mission is an involving, if not always subtle, exploration of modern prejudice. Featuring a strong performance by Benjamin Bratt and a keen eye toward its San Francisco setting, La Mission effectively mixes message with merrymaking. Screen Media's DVD is technically excellent, and its one bonus feature complements the film nicely. Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.