Good movies are rarely about just one thing.
"La Mission" offers level after level of meaning.
This indie gem gives actor Benjamin Bratt the best role of his career as a former gang banger and recovering alcoholic who, over the years, has assumed the role of solid citizen.
It's a detailed and nuanced look at a specific subculture - that of low-rider car enthusiasts - as well as a sort of valentine to San Francisco's Mission District and its melting pot of ethnicities.
It's a film about intolerance, about shucking off old prejudices and of opening yourself up to new experiences.
It's also a labor of love for Bratt and his writer/director brother Peter Bratt, who made it as a celebration of their own boyhoods in "The Mission" and of the men in their family.
Che (Bratt) is a widower who drives a city bus and has raised his son, Jesse (Jeremy Ray Valdez), to be a college-bound honor student. A former prison convict (with the jailhouse tattoos to prove it) and 20-year member of Alcoholics Anonymous, Che lives a quiet life, devoting much of his spare time to working on cars. With a loud, boisterous crew of middle-aged friends, he transforms rusty wrecks into shiny, bouncing boy toys.
But when he discovers Jesse is gay, a long-suppressed dark side of Che's personality resurfaces. Over the protests of friends and family who argue Jesse is a "great kid," Che disowns the boy with an angry "You're dead to me."
This description may suggest yet another cliched gay-issue movie.
Not at all.
Jesse's sexuality is merely the catalyst for an examination of the sort of stubborn machismo that dominated Che's early life and that lay dormant all these years.
Beneath his veneer of garrulous neighbor and co-worker, there still lurks the tough guy who lived a life of crime and whose personality seethes with resentments and frustrations. This alter ego has just been waiting for the right trigger.
Peter Bratt's screenplay provides Che with a wonderful foil in the person of his upstairs neighbor (Erika Alexander), a counselor in a woman's shelter who is both drawn to Che's considerable charm and wary of his cultural baggage.
By the way, she's African-American and a Hindu - this movie is all about San Francisco's anything-goes environment.
Vibrant and authentic, "La Mission" gives a real feel for a neighborhood and its residents while plumbing one man's battle to overcome his own dark side.
The movie got only a limited theatrical run, but this DVD release makes it available in everybody's living room.
Rated R, $24.98 on DVD, $29.98 on Blu-ray