Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ***½
When a movie, especially a small independent film, appears conventional in its approach to the material at hand, our critical establishment has a tendency to dismiss it. This is too bad, particularly where a movie like La Mission is concerned. Written and directed by Peter Bratt and starring his brother, the better-known Benjamin Bratt, the film is indeed conventional in some ways. It tells the tale of a Latino widower who labors as a San Francisco bus driver (the film is set in the city's Mission district, which has a long and storied Hispanic past) and who is raising a good-looking and popular teenage son.
Rather than dwell on plot development (and spoil one of the movie's initial surprises), let's talk instead about why the conventional is sometimes a smart way to let a film unfurl. This will bring in a wider audience, of course, but also, if the movie is handled well enough, it can allow that audience the opportunity to grow a bit. If you are able, as has been filmmaker Bratt, to write dialog quite well -- sounding off-the-cuff but also specific and often amusing -- and to effectively link one theme (Hispanic machismo) to another (violence against women) to another (homophobia) until everything is not just connected but very nearly inextricable, then you are doing your job very well.
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