When you see as many movies as the reviewing subculture does, you’re bound to come by something that honestly generally annoys that group of people. We notices things more than the masses and one of those things include squandering talent. A movie can be absolutely fine, not great, not bad, but have some of the most incredible performances. And these performances just feel squandered by a movie that doesn’t move the needle at all. If you’re only seeing two or three movies a month, you’re bound to feel different. But when you’re seeing five to six movies a week, it takes a lot more to move the needle for you.
Elegance Bratton has decided to make a movie that hits a homerun home for them and share it with the world. The story focuses on a man Ellis French played by Jeremy Pope. But there seems to be much more backstory and tragedy in the film than it shows and explores. French, as he is known in the movie, wants to join the Marines. However, in 2005, if one identified as gay the marines would not allow you to enlist. French identifies as a gay man. And he has to hide this from his commanding officers and his fellow marines, while facing a larger issue at home.
French’s mother, Inez played by Gabrielle Union has washed her hands clean, mostly, of her son because he is gay. She kicked him out at 16 and essentially wants nothing to do with her own son, because she wants “the son [she] gave birth to” a line that is so impactful and downright heartbreaking that paints the picture for the entire film. French wants to joins the marines, essentially, because he doesn’t want to end up as a statistic. And if he were to die in the uniform he would die as a hero.
French is dealing with his homophobic mother. Meanwhile, he has his commanding officers in the form of Laws and Rosales played by Bokeem Woodbine and Raul Castillo. Those two have the determination to make him the marine they want him to be, even if that includes pushing several boundaries. Bratton, who pens their personal story, marks their first feature. There is plenty to admire and connect with. But there is also far too much back and forth with themes that leave the impactful punches held back a little too much. The story changes between French’s personal demons, and the demons he faces in becoming a marine. But it is the performances by both Jeremy Pope and Gabrielle Union which ultimately grip the audience and haunt them long after the credits roll.
Jeremy Pope’s performance is so raw and emotional that the gut punch is undeniable. Meanwhile, Gabrielle Union is so unrelentingly vicious and heartless. Eevery venomous word she iterates is heartbreaking and hard to watch unfold. The performances from both Pope and Union will utterly shatter the audience. But the remainder of the film gets the audience to a point of breaking but then just misses the mark. It needed to use a less conventional way of filmmaking and storytelling. A different approach may land that knockout blow those performances contain.