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Review by Rich Cline | MUST SEE
dir-scr Elegance Bratton
prd Chester Algernal Gordon, Effie Brown
with Jeremy Pope, Gabrielle Union, Bokeem Woodbine, Raul Castillo, McCaul Lombardi, Eman Esfandi, Aaron Dominguez, Nicholas Logan, Aubrey Joseph, Andrew Kai, Tyler Merritt, Steve Mokate
release UK Oct.22 lff,
Is it streaming?
There's striking artistry in the way filmmaker Elegance Bratton recounts an autobiographical narrative about a Black gay man in US Marines boot camp during the "don't ask, don't tell" years. Never preachy, the film has an earthy, intensely internalised tone that puts its complex characters into a razor-sharp perspective. And its knowing authenticity adds both deep emotion and a textured, vital comment on the nature of bigotry.
In 2005 New Jersey, Ellis (Pope) has homeless since age 16, when his religious mother Inez (Union) threw him out for being gay. At the end of his rope, he joins the Marines and heads to boot camp, where Sargent Laws (Woodbine) comes down hard on recruits. Keeping his head down, he's harshly bullied by fellow trainees, instigated by Harvey (Lombardi). But Ellis also befriends fellow outcast Ismail (Esfandi), a Muslim, and is quietly helped by encouraging officer Rosales (Castillo). Still, getting through this is going to take a serious amount of will power.
All of this is seen through Ellis' alert, observant eyes, including a few dreamy moments when he allows himself to indulge in some lusty fantasies sparked by this hyper-masculine environment. While boot camps are nothing new to cinema, Bratton's approach is unusually sensitive, capturing tiny details that provide a range of jolts. He also constantly subverts stereotypes. Both hatred and compassion are expressed in almost subliminal ways, and the gruelling physicality of military training has never been depicted in such an intimate, moving way.
Pope delivers a tremendous performance that packs huge emotions without ever going over the top. Even his blank stares have a compelling thoughtfulness to them, which makes Ellis instantly identifiable as a young man who has been forced to see the world in terms of friends and foes. He loves his mother dearly, and there are some wonderful moments between Pope and the stripped-back, darkly intense Union. Even their warm interaction is tinged with years of pain due to Inez's refusal to love him for who he is. Meanwhile, Woodbine and Castillo both find magnetic layers in their powerfully drawn characters.
Without shouting its themes, the film delivers several quietly devastating kicks, puncturing triumphant machismo and institutionalised homophobia in subtle ways that carry broad implications, especially for those who hide their prejudice behind either false bravado or religious beliefs. In addition to being an involving, beautifully assembled drama, Bratton's story is an important one that will offer hope to young people who are in pain and families in need of healing.
R E A D E R R E V I E W SStill waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.
© 2022 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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