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Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2011

La Mission

Benjamin Bratt delivers in indie film

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Benjamin Bratt has a great time in La Mission as Che, the cool San Francisco bus driver who is the captain of his four-wheeled ship and king of the streets around his apartment in the Mission District. He wears the sharpest clothes, drives a slick hand-painted retro car and strides with the confidence of a lord—even as he bestows small acts of kindness on neighbors and rages against the “hipster and new money types” threatening to gentrify the ’hood.

It’s a role as sharply chiseled as his Van Dyke beard and Bratt delivers it with panache. Slowly we learn a few things about Che. He did prison time for robbery and wrestles with alcoholism with the aid of A.A. Abruptly, Che learns something about his son Jesse (Jeremy Ray Valdez); the boy is gay and going with a rich white kid. For several seconds it’s not clear if Che’s rage is directed as much at the whiteness of Jesse’s boyfriend as at his sexual orientation, but soon enough it comes down to the latter. Che tosses Jesse out of the house, and the word on the unforgiving streets is “faggot.”

The trajectory of La Mission, an indie film from the outskirts of Hollywood, isn’t hard to figure. But alongside the message of tolerance written by Bratt’s brother Peter, La Mission is a knowing look at Chicano culture in California, with its love of lowriders, colorful street murals, devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe and unflinching machismo—all suffused by the hard, clear sunlight of northern California.

Opens Jan. 22 at Times Cinema.