Gun Hill Road, a film by fellow Bronxite Rashaad Ernesto Green, is a tale full of raw emotions and angst surrounding a father come home after a three year stint in jail and a family who has moved on and continued to live their lives without him. A wife, played by Bronx born Judy Reyes, who found a replacement for a husband who spent more time on the streets and in and out of jail and a son who is finally expressing his true identity – that as Vanessa and not as a male as the father remembers him before being sent to prison.
Enrique, the father played by Esai Morales, is immediately confronted with the harsh reality of being absent from his family for so long and how life isn’t as plug and play as we may want it to be. Esai’s performance as the quintessential “machista” is as real as it gets. Often times I found myself so immersed in his storyline that it felt like I was not at the movies but watching it unfold at a local park. The banter between his friends, always pushing and testing his manhood as alive as the same scenes I witness daily at the corner bodega.
The dynamic between Enrique and his son Michael aka Vanessa, played by transgendered actress Harmony Santana (don’t forget to read NYTimes piece on Harmony) , is authentic and never seems fake and heart wrenching at times. Enrique’s disappointed with his son’s choice of gender and how he desperately tries to “fix” Michael leaves us feeling sorry for both of them.
Harmony gives us one of the most beautiful scenes in the movie when he is transforming from Michael into Vanessa. It is only as Vanessa – his real self, that he truly seems alive. He metamorphoses into a jubilant human being from the sad and forced happiness that he endures as Michael when at home.
Judy Reyes‘ roll as wife and mom, Angela, is pretty phenomenal as well. She is another talented actress that takes you along the journey of a mother who has learned to love her transgendered son no matter what, choosing between her husband and the man who makes her happy and finally, trying to keeping the family together despite her own happiness.
Overall the film is an excellent journey of a Bronx family trying to exist in an unforgiving world. The acting is on point and keeps you wanting more by the three main characters. The film is refreshingly filled with substance and little to no artsy fartsy fillers that sometimes tend to plague some indie films. It is a movie which everyone should watch simply because of the simple message of loving your flesh and blood no matter what and like the tag line says: “You can’t escape who you are.” it reminds us that we should be true to ourselves.
-Ed García Conde
Anyone who grew up in a latin household has had the pleasure, or displeasure I should say, to one degree or another of experiencing what makes latino culture so alluring to so many people… that of course being machismo. “Gun Hill Road” does a perfect job in demonstrating how old world machismo and new world ideas seldom work together. It’s a story about a father recently released from prison that comes home and discovers his wife has been having an affair, and that his son is not only a homosexual, (strike one for a machista), but that he’s also a pre-op transsexual. This of course devastates him because he sees himself losing his little boy, the one who is supposed to continue his legacy to this lifestyle, which he knows nothing about. Although the movie consists of 3 main storylines the one that is prominent and overarching is that of the father and his struggle to step back into the roll as the man of the house while confronting these new situations. Although, at times, it may seem like the father is only thinking about himself in the things he does such as confronting and robbing the “other man” or making his son sleep with a prostitute is what any man raised in a strictly machista household would have done to preserve his family, and to ensure the continuation of his bloodline, because when it comes down to it all machismo is, is the struggle for respect.
The son on the other hand finds himself in a struggle with his very identity. Considering himself a transsexual, he has to deal with the daily stigmas purported by growing up in a very close-minded community. His transformation into his female version, Vanessa, was definitely the most beautiful scene in this movie. Like so many other teenagers struggling for self-identity he gets used by a “straight” man for sex in exchange for money, basically becoming a prostitute so that he can obtain the injections and hormone pills so that he can begin his transformation into a woman. On top of all of this is the return of his father into his life that, once he finds out about his lifestyle, decides to take matters into his own hands and “man his son up.” In the end though, thanks to a strong mother, the father realizes that no matter what he does his son is going to be this way no matter what, and his acceptance is seen on his face as he is being dragged away by the cops while he son stares on.
The saddest and loneliest story is that of the mother who has to battle her equally strong “marianista” upbringing, and loves her son no matter what path he chooses. Having to contend with the fact that she has to be basically raise a son all by herself is a tough situation and she finds comfort in the arms of another man who not only treats her with affection and love, but also accepts her son for who he is. Her struggle to keep the family together no matter what is plainly evident in her tired looking expression, and she has great difficulty in having to leave the man that has come to love her for the man that she fell in love with so long ago, but was never there.
All in all the performances by the actors were absolutely divine, bringing tears to my eyes in many instances and easy laughs in others. Rashaad Ernesto Green was able to take a typical Puerto Rican family from the Bronx, and transport them onto the big screen. This has easily become one of my favorite movies, and I definitely recommend it to everyone.
-Remy Bougeois Martínez