Review: ‘Gun Hill Road’
Riveting Debut Performance By Harmony Santana
Sunday, October 9, 2011
Credit: Motion Film Group
Enrique Rodriguez (Esai Morales) has been serving out a jail term for a violent crime and the film opens with his release. But things have changed on the outside. His wife Angela (Judy Reyes) has been having an affair and his son Michael (Harmony Santana) is planning a sex change operation. None of this sits well with the macho Enrique who seems only able to express his feelings in violent outbursts despite an underlying love he has for his family. The title of the film refers to a street in the Bronx but the film doesn't convey much of a feel for its location. It plays out as a generic urban setting where life is rough and most of the locals don't have a lot to their name.
Writer-director Rashaad Ernesto Green spins a fairly predictable tale of a man unable to adjust to the changes that have happened in his family while he was gone. His re-adjustment to family life proves ripe with drama. But Green fails to develop Enrique with much depth. The character's reactions to both his wife's infidelity and his son's sexual orientation are played out in predictable flourishes of machismo. Morales tries to invest the character with some underlying humanity but in the end Enrique lacks dimensionality. He tries to talk about sports with his effeminate son and when the boy doesn't respond, the father tries to take him to a prostitute. Only on rare occasions -- as in a scene where Michael falls asleep on his dad's shoulder on the couch -- do we see a tenderness in Enrique. Angela, the mother, doesn't get a lot more depth but she displays greater compassion for her son and is never shown to question his choices. So in that respect she comes across as more sympathetic and is played by Reyes as far more reasonable than Morales' Enrique.
But whenever Green turns his attention to Michael, the film bristles with insight and energy. Green benefits immeasurably from Harmony Santana's riveting and nuanced performance. Santana conveys a complex portrait of a young teenage boy going through a difficult period of transition. Green displays sensitivity in depicting intimate scenes with Michael so that we see all that this character is trying to navigate at such a young age.
"Gun Hill Road" (rated R for strong sexual content, language and some violence) hits a lot of cliches but at its center is a strong and vivid performance by Harmony Santana as a young boy having the confidence to make important choices about identity.
Companion viewing: "Ma Vie En Rose," "Crying Game," "Bad Boys"
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