There's your standard father-son fallout drama, and then there's the domestic detonation of Rashaad Ernesto Green's familial meltdown. After spending three years in an upstate prison, stoic Puerto Rican prince Enrique (Morales) returns to his Bronx household to find that his wife, Angela (Reyes), has been having an affair. Meanwhile, his beloved, lush-lipped teenaged son, Michael (Santana), has embraced his identity as a transsexual. Saddled with old-school notions of masculinity and haunted by memories of handsy inmates, Enrique angrily shears his son's cascading locks and pushes him into the arms of a prostitute---leaving Michael to struggle through a complicated sexual awakening fearful and alone.
Writer-director Green follows the write-what-you-know dictum by situating his first film in the Bronx Latino milieu of his youth, exploding the concept of the hypermacho barrio with this urgent 21st-century clash of cultural values. Yet even with the rich, inherently cinematic texture of the urban setting and two excellent native outer-borough actors in Morales and Reyes, Gun Hill Road falters thanks to its paint-by-numbers storytelling. From the moment we meet these characters, it's clear where everything is headed, and that Michael's heartbreaking turmoil will be forced to serve his own tormenter's predictable redemption. That Green's culturally specific, true-life tale is an institutionally shepherded project (both the IFP and the Tribeca Film Festival's artistic-development arm provided support) isn't surprising; it's a personal film that feels as if it's been workshopped to the point of clich.
Follow Eric Hynes on Twitter: @eshynes
Watch the trailer