Gun Hill Road: A Powerful and Moving Family Drama from Rashaad Ernesto Green

February 4, 2011 : 12:01 am | by Will Gentile

Still of Esai Morales in Gun Hill Road

In the US Dramatic competition at the Sundance Film Festival this year there was one movie I saw that stood out from the rest as the best of the bunch: That movie was Gun Hill Road. The film directed by Rashaad Ernesto Green tells the story of a man after serving three years in prison being paroled and returning to his bronx neighborhood and the estranged wife and son he left behind. The man named Enrique played by Esai Morales in a truly remarkable performance finds things have certainly changed since he has been gone in particular the fact his son has gone through a transformation in sexual identity that the father does not approve of or fully understand. The son, Michael, played by Harmony Santana in a fantastic breakout performance is what would be considered a transexual (from boy to girl) teen who performs slam poetry in local clubs under the name of Vanessa and in doing so attracts the attention of a young black male named Chris. The adjustment to home life is not a easy transition for Enrique as the prison mentality he has acquired still affects his decision making and further complicates his relationship with his wife and son. The film is extremely effective in capturing the dynamics of the family and strained emotions each character feels through image alone that the dialogue is just there to further the message. The film is also a great example of telling a story about a Minority household that does not perpetuate stereotypes or exaggerate characteristics but just tells a narrative that is emotionally raw and honest without ever losing the sense of realism. One scene I liked in particular was the one that took place at the park during a softball game where Enrique encourages Michael to take an at bat. In that one scene we see their relationship encapsulated: the difference between Enrique’s expectations and intentions for the man he wants his son to become and the person that Michael truly is. With a emotionally investing story and a heart breaking and unsentimental ending this film speaks to a life most people don’t get to see portrayed on the screen but one most should.

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