THE INSPECTION: 3 ½ STARS. “a classic against-all-odds story.”
Based on writer/director Elegance Bratton’s experiences as a queer Black man in the Marines boot camp, “The Inspection,” now playing in theatres, avoids the jingoistic tone of so many films set within the military. Instead, it is a painful, cathartic tale of overcoming oppression in order to survive.
When we first meet Ellis French (Jeremy Pope), he’s a queer, 26-year-old Black man, cut loose from his disapproving family. “I will love you till the day that I die,” says his prison guard mother Inez (Gabrielle Union), “but I can’t love what you are.” Her deeply held religious beliefs have led her to reject her son, so much so, she even puts down a newspaper on the couch before he sits. With no home to call his own, he has spent years living rough, in and out of Trenton, New Jersey shelters.
With no money and no family support, he makes the choice to join the Marines and do whatever it takes to create a future for himself in the military. At boot camp Ellis, nicknamed French by the other recruits, is a disciplined candidate, even under pressure from his strict drill sergeant (Bokeem Woodbine) who promises, “I will break you.”
Although French never formally announces his queerness, his sexuality puts a target on his back. At the barracks, despite beatings, bullying and outright bias, he excels, proving to himself, the other jarheads and possibly even his homophobic mother, he has found his niche.
“The Inspection” will likely bear the weight of comparison to “Full Metal Jacket,” but despite the obvious similarities in location and the presence of a harsh drill sergeant, these are two very different films thematically. Bratton’s film is not an anti-war film. Instead, it adopts a neutral stance to most of the questions about the duality of war Stanley Kubrick raised in “Full Metal Jacket,” preferring to concentrate on the more introspective note of one man’s transformation in the face of adversity.
This is a classic against-all-odds story that paints a vivid picture of life inside the boot camp, the dehumanization, the violence, but also brotherhood, in the form of instructor Rosales as played by Raul Castillo. Bratton and cinematographer Lachlan Milne carefully build the world of the boot camp, creating a palette of claustrophobia, brutality and tension that adds layers to the telling of French’s survival story.
Bratton brings a personal touch to the filmmaking that feels therapeutic, the kind of storytelling that can only come from his lived experience. The director is aided by a raw and powerful performance from Pope and an unrelenting Union, whose work helps elevate the occasionally cliched aspects of the story.