Film Review: Mission Park

Four young men from a rough neighborhood are bound together by ties of family, friendship, culture and an ugly secret that continues to haunt them long after they've taken different paths to adulthood, paths that nonetheless all lead to the same place&

Bobby and Julian (Jeremy Ray Valdez and Will Rothhaar) are raised as brothers in San Antonio, Texas, by Bobby's stand-up dad (Jesse Borrego), who took in Julian in as a ten-year-old whose junkie parents were more interested in scoring than looking after their child; both OD’ed when Julian was 13. Their best friends, Jason and Derek (Walter Perez and Joseph Julian Soria), are decent kids, but neither has the benefit of steady adult guidance, and by the time they're all teenagers it's clear whose feet are clearly on the straight-and-narrow and who's running off the rails.

The deciding moment in their young lives is sparked by the impetuous decision to rob a local taqueria. Jason is the instigator and Derek obediently follows his bolder buddy's lead; Julian and Bobby don't want any part of it, but allow themselves to be taunted into sticking around. When the smoke clears, the owner—a middle-aged woman who could be the mother of any one of them—lies dead on the floor.

The boys stick to their vow to stay silent, but when the opportunity to leave town comes, Julian and Bobby take it: After finishing high school they both go to West Virginia University and then to the FBI academy. The only person back home who knows they've decided to become lawmen is Bobby's father and, serendipitously enough, he's dead of cancer by the time they graduate, because the plum assignment that awaits them requires complete and total secrecy: They're to infiltrate the local drug cartel headed up by none other than Jason, with Derek as his right-hand man. Bobby, the inside man, is given a rap sheet and sent back to San Antonio, while Julian stays behind to coordinate the operation from a distance. Both are, inevitably, torn between their consciences and, well, their consciences: They know drugs and the violence that invariably accompanies drug distribution and dealing are the scourge of neighborhoods like theirs, but Derek and Jason are their friends…and snitches are the lowest form of life.

Needless to say, the transition from friends to foes is a rough one, not helped by the fact that Bobby's high-school sweetheart, Gena (Fernanda Romero), is now with Jason who, inevitably, will never love her as much as Bobby did and still does. This can only end badly, which we know not just because the movie opens on the image of a smoking gun but because the moral dilemma of the righteous lawman who must do bad on a personal level in order to do good on a societal one is as old as, well, cop movies.

On the plus side, Mission Park features surprisingly strong performances from the leads, all of whom have extensive experience—much of it in television, a notoriously unforgiving medium—even allowing for the fact that they're significantly older than the characters they're playing. It's very much to their combined credit that they both sell the depth of the relationships between them and manage to pull off a number of high-emotion scenes of the kind that could easily have descended into bathetic excess.