The Mission, presumably so named after its setting in the Mission District of San Francisco, opens with a blissful barrage of vibrantly coloured low riders that glide gracefully onto the screen, bathed in the unmistakably cinematic sunshine of the Californian coast. The film, written and directed superbly by Peter Bratt, brother of Benjamin, is a hidden gem.

With a strong focus on themes such as gang life and domestic abuse, The Mission offers a deeply introspective and fleetingly brutal portrayal of Che (Benjamin Bratt) and his struggle with sudden revelations over his son Jes’ (Jeremy Ray Valdez) sexuality. Taking the lead in his brother’s second directorial feature, Bratt delivers the performance of his career, lending a heart-rending believability to the hardened pachuco Che, whose violent resistance to the abrupt realisation of his son’s homosexuality threatens to tear both their lives apart.

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Both the script and direction are hugely commendable, and the director is ambitious in exploring the socio-economic issues that govern the existence of modern day Chicano communities. From Che’s ostensible alcohol addiction, to the burgeoning gang violence in which his son becomes embroiled, The Mission engages meaningfully and deliberately with the day-to-day lives of residents in the Mission District. There are instances where the dialogue is obvious and momentarily reminiscent of the ‘made-for-TV’ movie, but this does not detract from the underlying quality of the direction and performances across the cast. Ray Valdez, for example, delivers a thoughtful and energetic turn as Jes as does Erika Alexander as Che’s strait-laced neighbour, Lena.

Once his son’s closely guarded secret is revealed, Che’s purportedly unflinching devotion to him is shattered in scenes where Bratt uses his physicality to carve out a menacing and ominous presence. In spite of the best efforts of family and friends, it appears little can be done to resurrect their relationship, as Jes flees his home to the safety and acceptance of his boyfriend, Jordan, played well by Max Rosenak, whose family reside in more salubrious surroundings, much to the annoyance of Che.

The Mission offers an authentic narrative on very real problems that habitually dominate American-Hispanic communities across the US. The depiction of destructiveness wrought by Che’s rejection of his son’s sexuality is at the forefront of a layered commentary on broader issues which is realised to great effect.

Reviewed on: 11 Aug 2012
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A father in San Francisco's Mission District, struggles to come to terms with his son's sexuality.
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