PLGFF film review: ‘Gun Hill Road’

One of Thursday night’s screenings for the PLGFF was Gun Hill Road by writer-director Rashaad Ernesto Green. The film opens with Enrique, a husband and father, returning home to the Bronx after three years in prison. During his absence he finds that the family he used to know has changed. Not only has his wife, Angela, had an affair with another man but his teenage son, Michael, has started to experiment with his gender identity. Michael dresses up as a woman and wants to have surgery to become fully transitioned.

Although Michael never confronts Enrique about the transformation he wants to make, Enrique has suspicions and discovers it anyway. This challenges Enrique’s ideals about what it means to be a man and what it means for him personally to have raised a son that wants to be a woman. He deals with these challenges from his family and with the challenge of getting out of prison by becoming involved in the same kinds of skirmishes that probably put him in jail. Meanwhile, Angela struggles with breaking off her affair. Though she is supportive and protective of Michael, she seems somewhat oblivious to the transition Michael wants to make.

The film does not have a conclusive ending and we don’t really get to see what is going to happen with any of the characters. While I think that the snapshot in time approach can work really well for many films, I don’t think it worked particularly well for this one. I would have liked to see more of a definitive plot line or one of the issues from the film explored more in depth. Even the confrontation between father and son was not a particularly dramatic climax or resounding theme of the film.

The thing that I really did enjoy about the film was the complexity of its characters. The struggles they were all experiencing were profound and not easy to handle. In researching this film, one thing I found that was surprising and interesting is that the person who played Michael, Harmony Santana, is a transsexual actress who had never acted before this film. I think that her personal experience with her transition really made her role as Michael extremely authentic and tender. Although the characters were believable, I would have also liked to see the actors have more chemistry with each other.

I think that the general public may have found this film to be quite good as an introduction to some queer issues they may have not thought about before. However, I think a queer audience may have a harsher critique of the film as we generally have more in depth knowledge when it comes to the kinds of issues the family was experiencing, such as transitioning and relating to one’s family as a queer person.

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