March 12, 2013

Queer Review: Gun Hill Road (2011)

Gun Hill Road
Director: Rashaad Ernesto Green
Writer: Rashaad Ernesto Green
Cast: Esai Morales, Judy Reyes, Harmony Santana, Miriam Colon, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Franky G, Vincent Laresca, Robin de Jesus

Gun Hill Road is a film that does as many things wrong as it does right. Lacking in focus, while high in predictability, the main things that save this from being mostly a waste are strong acting and raw cinematography.

Enrique (Esai Morales) has just been released from prison and returns home to find out that his wife, Angela (Judy Reyes) has been having an affair while he was in jail. While this does not bother him too much, when he discovers the fact that his "son", Michael (Harmony Santana) is now in the process of transitioning to Vanessa, he finds it increasingly difficult to control his rage.

The Queering
Watching Gun Hill Road, I was frequently reminded of Pariah. Both films are small, independent features that depict inner city life for young individuals of color, who are LGBTQ identified. The plots also have remarkably similarly narratives, which ends up being Gun Hill Road's biggest undoing.

Familiarity maybe bread contempt, but that need not be a killer for most films, but when the plot becomes too predictable, there needs to be some other element capable of making the story compelling. Unfortunately for Gun Hill Road some naturalistic performances and a shaky cam that lends a feeling of "realness" -- even while the script is doing everything it can to take things in the opposite direction -- are not enough to save it.

There was also the unfortunate decision to make Enrique a focal point of the story. The main problem is that he was not a terribly sympathetic character, particularly after he assaults Vanessa and forces her to submit to a haircut. The fact that his character arc is the most predictable out of all the characters does not help matters either.

Now maybe I've taken too much sensitivity training on the subject, but the choice gendered pronouns and nouns by other characters when they referred to Michael/Vanessa bothered me a biy. I mean, I can understand why Enrique keeps using male pronouns, but why does Angela, who apparently was on board with the transition, keep misgendering Vanessa?

For those who prefer smaller films and independent cinema, Gun Hill Road may be a route worth taking. If not, this film may be better off being left the road less traveled.

The Rating
**1/2 out of ****


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  1. This is a pretty accurate review but I will add that if you are a trans woman you are going to love and appreciate this movie for:
    -Having a trans woman played by an actual trans woman for the the first time. This makes a huge difference and is such a relief. Harmony Santana absolutely rocks this roll and you will root for her when you watch it, I don't care who you are.
    -There are so many little details about life as a trans woman that are going to ring so true for you. They aren't are all happy details, in fact they mostly aren't happy details but the fact that they are there is what really makes the movie different from the cis fantasy of what a trans persons life is that every other trans movie is.


    1. Thank you Wendy, for sharing your opinion. I feel as someone who reviews Queer/LGBTQ films that it's important to review films that cover as many different identities as possible. But there are times when I feel that when it comes to identities that I as a cis white gay male cannot claim to be a part of, that my limited experience kind of creates a bit of a blind spot so to speak.


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