Harmony Santana and Esai Morales in "Gun Hill Road." (Sundance Film Festival )
An imprisoned husband and father, released after three years, finds an emotionally shifting new world upon his return home in the urban family drama "Gun Hill Road."
Set in a struggling yet tightly knit Puerto Rican community in the Bronx, writer-director Rashaad Ernesto Green's debut feature stars Esai Morales as Enrique, a hardened parolee who averts his eyes when making love to wife Angela (Judy Reyes), who had an affair while he was gone, but can only stare in confused, wounded anger at his transsexually inclined teenage son Michael (Harmony Santana) and worry for how it reflects his own masculinity.
Before some predictable, freedom-threatening recidivism on Enrique's part, the film exhibits a simultaneously anthropological and sensitive interest in Michael's day-to-day life: how he taps into his self-confidence dressing as a woman, endures his dad's pointless attempts to butch him up and negotiates a fraught relationship with a transsexual-curious African American boyfriend.
Although Green's sense of narrative conflict leads inexorably into clichéd parent-child showdown territory, the quietly commanding turn by newcomer Santana — whose outward embrace of an already well-internalized transformation leaps off the screen with equal parts joy, melancholia and bravery — is a standout.
"Gun Hill Road." MPAA rating: R for strong sexual content, language and some violence. Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes. In limited release.