The Inspection is unlike any other military film you’ve seen before. It is a portrait of a man desperate for belonging, a mother’s love, and the lengths one will go to for what they need.
While all films are personal, writer-director Elegance Bratton’s The Inspection is perhaps one of the most personal films of the year. Bratton’s feature debut is a semi-autobiographical exploration of his experience in the military during the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” era. The Inspection is a profound retelling of Bratton’s service as a Marine while on a journey of self-discovery and learning self-worth. Ellis French (Jeremy Pope) is our placeholder for Bratton, and we follow him as he desperately aches to find himself outside of the troubled path he is currently on. French is yearning to become anyone other than the castaway his mother (Gabrielle Union) paints him out to be.
The film begins in 2005 when French is living in a homeless shelter and is longing for a way out of his current situation. He returns to his mother’s home, where has he not lived since he was a teen, to retrieve his birth certificate to enlist in the Marines. The conversation that unfolds is one of the best scenes of the film. The dialogue between French and Inez is tragic and cold. While the interaction never explodes, you can see and feel the tension between the two. Pope and Union play off one another in such a beautiful, heartbreaking manner that it says enough to fill in any questions of their backstory without saying anything at all.
As most military films do, we follow French to boot camp and meet the stereotypical Sergeant Laws (Bokeem Woodbine) who is there to break his platoon. Woodbine’s character is written a bit flat, but he still shines as Sergeant Laws crushes French’s spirit and humanity throughout training. Bratton films the training and boot camp life with such a stylistic vision you feel not just mentally part of French’s journey, but also physically there. The Inspection never feels as if it’s any other military film, it feels more like a film on self-discovery with the military serving as a setting.
French is often kept on the outside of his platoon throughout the film and scrutinized for his sexuality while the rest of his fellow Marines are praised for their straightness. For instance, his platoon relishes in receiving nude photos of women yet French is beaten by the men for expressing any sort of desire. Sergeant Laws is harder on French than any of the other men in the platoon while fellow instructor Rosales (Raúl Castillo) is more focused on training all the men in the platoon to be the best rather than focusing on the macho white men specifically as Sergeant Laws does.
Pope is truly a star in The Inspection. The Tony- and Emmy-nominated actor delivers a tragic, heart-wrenching performance that is one of the best of the year. Union and Woodbine deliver incredible supporting performances. The score by Animal Collective and cinematography by Lachlan Milne elevate the film to truly transport you into Bratton’s 2005 experience. The film touches on the bigoted and Islamophobic behaviors of the US military, but it never entirely goes there to shift the plot. The sole focus of the film is French’s experience within the boot camp. While French had to repress so much of himself, the film still allows him to have fleeting moments of triumph as a Marine and as a gay man. The Inspection is a harrowing personal journey of a man desperate for belonging, a mother’s love, and the lengths one will go to for what they need.
Should be Considered: Lead Actor (Jeremy Pope), Supporting Actress (Gabrielle Union)
Where to Watch: In Theaters
Lives in LA with her husband, daughter and dog. Misses Arclight, loves iced vanilla coffees.
Favorite Director: Darren Aronofsky
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