When Will Benjamin Bratt Have the Career He Deserves?

I watched The Cleaner last night and I am less than impressed.  It’s like the writers sat down and were like “What if we took The Shield and Joan of Arcadia and took out the God character and made the main character more conventionally good?”

The general plot is that Bratt plays a guy who goes to extreme measures to get people to get off drugs.  He’s got a multi-racial support group who look vaguely like other people you think you recognize.  And he’s been in prison and his family life sucks.  He’s got a wife, but she’s always mad at him, and a daughter who understands him when no one else does and a son that hates him.  We’ll come back to this.

But first, I want to talk about last night’s episode.  In last night’s episode, Eric Roberts was a former meth user who went to prison because Bratt’s character fucked up his very first “clean,” while attempting to save Roberts’ wife.  Now, he’s out of prison and has fallen back in with his…

Oh god, it strains credulity to even type this.

…his biker gang.  And soon enough, he’s back using meth.  Bratt, out of loyalty to Roberts’ son, infiltrates the gang in order to see that he stays clean and, if not, to get him clean.  In the ensuing chaos, for reasons I couldn’t really give a shit enough to care about, the white guy on Bratt’s team is held at gun-point by that guy who always plays gang members on tv–you know, the scrawny Latino guy with the hollow cheeks and the neck tattoo–and forced to smoke meth, after which he briefly becomes a meth addict, but is apparently saved by the chick in Bratt’s group.

Whew, okay, I just spent twenty minutes trying to track down this guy.  Turns out he’s not Latino, he’s Italian and he was in one of my favorite movies, The Professional, and his name is Robert LaSardo.

Regardless, let’s just assume that LaSardo has, oh I don’t know, actually left his house in the past thirty years and, as such, is not a fourteen year old girl writing fan fiction for Benjamin Bratt.  As such, I am left to wonder this: When LaSardo is holding the gun to white-kid-whose-name-I’m-not-going-to-bother-to-learn because his character is attempting to force the white kid’s character to smoke meth, do you think there was ever, ever a moment when LaSardo turned to the folks behind the scenes and said “My character has paid this character for the gas tanks my character’s gang needs to transport the meth we sell in order to make our shit-tons of money.  If I suspect he is a cop, why don’t I just shoot him?  I am not a 16 year old gang member but a grown ass man who has, apparently, the capacity to make wise business decisions.  Why, again, am I forcing someone who doesn’t want it and with whom I won’t have dealings after this–because I don’t trust him–to use my product for free?  Isn’t this the luckiest son of a bitch in this show?  He gets all my money for the gas tanks and he gets my drugs for free.”

Well, anyway, Lasardo, judging by his Wikipedia entry, was probably laughing all the way to the bank.  I mean, he’s a fine actor, don’t get me wrong, but his whole career is premised on the fact that he’s covered in tattoos and so Hollywood can hire a “scary Mexican looking dude” without actually having to hire a scary Mexican dude (though, in my search for LaSardo’s name, I‘ve learned you can do that, too.)

Anyway, back to Bratt’s family.  There are two issues I see here.  One, Bratt is unbelievably sexy.  I mean, sweet Jesus sexy.  And when he’s angry, very charismatic.  And while I believe that his wife might be very, very, very pissed at him, as a character, it is nearly impossible to believe that she could be with him and not feel any spark there, still.  I mean, if Bratt were sitting at my table, looking and broody and upset in various states of undress, no matter how pissed at him I was, it would be impossible for me to not run a comforting hand across his beautiful shoulders.

Unless he’s an abusive asshole who you’re frightened of.

That’s a dynamic they almost hint at, with the father/daughter dynamic in which the daughter understands him in a way that no one else in the family does and she feels bad for him when no one else does and she’ll assure him that…

Okay, here’s the other thing.  At some point, because Bratt’s character won’t let his son quit football, his son runs away and there’s all this drama because they don’t know where he is and they call the cops and everything.  And then the daughter comes over to her dad and says “I can’t tell you where he is, but I got a text message from him and I know where he is and he’s safe.” AND THEN BRATT’S CHARACTER HUGS HER.

It’s like the biggest what the fuck moment in TV history.

Hello, Hollywood, here in real life, if your son has run away and you’re frantically searching for him and calling in the cops and worried sick and your daughter says she knows where he is but she’s not going to tell you but he’s safe?

There’s no scenerio in which you would gratefully hug her.

When a child takes over like that–being the parent in the house–it’s fucked up.

I’m not sure you get that you’re not writing the daughter as “the good kid.”  You’re writing her as extremely fucked up.  If she’s the fucked up parent in the house, you have to play Bratt’s character a whole lot different.  You’re going to have to let him be the unstable, insecure, uncertain abuser who would be the catalyst for that kind of family dynamic.

And, as such, you need to show, at the least, that you understand that there’s something fucked up and creepy about the dynamic between him and the daughter.

It can be done, on a better television show and I believe Bratt’s a good enough actor to pull it off, but I don’t believe this is a good enough show to give him that meat to chew on.