The story isn’t new, but it’s told with some genuine impact in this tale of father-son tension. “Gun Hill Road,” titled after its Bronx neighborhood, stars Esai Morales as Enrique, a macho fellow who returns home from a stint in prison to find his teen son Michael (Harmony Santana) no longer interested in sports. What it takes him a while to discover is that the boy has begun secretly wearing girls’ clothing, and aims to change his gender by surgical means. Naturally Enrique does not handle the revelation well, and his brutal reaction drives the youngster away, much to the distress of his long-suffering wife Angela (Judy Reyes).
This is not an unfamiliar narrative—Benjamin Bratt’s “The Mission” covered similar territory recently, though on the opposite coast. And writer-director Rashaad Ernesto Green busies up the script with digressions involving Enrique’s suspicions about Angela’s fidelity and his involvement with his old gang, which leads him into trouble with his parole officer).
Still, the performances are strong, with Morales exuding anger, Reyes concern, and Santana the vulnerability of a young man searching for his true identity. The film also captures the atmosphere of the neighborhood well; in this case the gritty look that comes from a low budget is entirely appropriate.
The result is a film that might have an afterschool special feel, but compensates for it somewhat with mood and intensity.