Films told from the perspective of Marines have the potential for rich, compelling storytelling full metal jacket and jarhead stand as a few of the most notable. The inspection Writer/director Elegance Bratton explores a fictionalized version of his own past experiences as a young black gay man struggling through boot camp. The intensely personal details are there, but it’s a propaganda film that feels trapped behind naval tropes and frustrating news stories.
Based on a true story, Ellis French (Jeremy Pope) is a young black gay man struggling to find his way through life. His mother Inez (Gabrielle Union) rejects him completely and is willing to let his potential for a successful future die. So Ellis decides to join the Marines to make something of himself and find meaning in his life.
In the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” era, Ellis finds that the Marine system doesn’t welcome him with open arms. Despite this, he does his best to transform himself into the perfect recruit, even as the process becomes more and more grueling.
Ellis and Inez haven’t seen each other for five years before he shows up on their doorstep. She moved on with her life and made peace with the fact that in her eyes he is dead for who he is. Inez calls it his “lifestyle,” considering her dreams are snuffed out for her son. But Ellis still believes that one day they will reconnect and their mother-son relationship will blossom. Until then, Ellis is only present to collect his birth certificate in order to apply for the Marines.
The inspection quickly throws Ellis and the audience right into the heart of a recruit’s life. The first series of questions he’s asked include whether he’s a drug user or a gay man by a screaming drill sergeant. This is just the beginning as homophobia, racism, misogyny and religious prejudice rear their ugly heads. Recruits are informed that they will be dismembered over the course of boot camp, but those who do not fit the White, Christian, or Straight categories face additional abuse and humiliation.
When the group is privy to Ellis’ attraction to other men, they avoid him from the group. Her discomfort around him immediately escalates into violence, much to the delight of Squad Leader Brooks (Nicholas Logan). Ellis is in the hands of toxic masculinity and corruption that continue to crush him from within. However, he finds solace in a superior named Rosales (Raúl Castillo), who shows kindness and positive motivation in a sea of hatred.
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This fictionalized account of Bratton’s story in The inspection comes with a sense of intimacy as it is an annoying watch that is quite hard to take. Nevertheless, he weaves masculine eroticism into the dreamlike landscape, which then collapses back into reality. Cinematographer Lachlan Milne highlights these moments with a distinctive color palette that separates these worlds but illuminates these scenes just enough to emphasize the impending darkness in the frame.
Pope has undeniable star qualities with the potential for a monumental career beyond his already lavish performances One night in Miami… and pose. His work in The inspection is delightfully complex, peeling away the layers of Ellis to reveal both immense strength and tender emotions. Meanwhile, Union is short on screen time, but their presence is felt throughout. Inez’s domineering judgments are felt throughout the boot camp, expertly integrated by Union. Complementing this feature is Castillo’s compassion as Rosales, which brings a much-needed warmth that highlights some of the film’s most serious moments.
However, The inspection is undoubtedly a propaganda piece. Posters line the hallways in the background of the frame with much of this language and imagery, but the film’s message is no different. It embraces the notion that to become a “real man” you have to be broken, and it was only through the Marines that Ellis was able to achieve that level of manhood. Also, Bratton lets homophobic and other biased acts and those who commit them off the hook far too easily, and casually dismisses hateful acts.
The inspection reflects brainwashed sensibilities of masculinity and the self, questioning the broken system and those who perpetuate it. Pope, Union and Castillo are absolute powers that bring human nuances to the film. Aside from a few touching moments, it lacks depth of character and an excess of harmful propaganda.
The inspection will open in a limited version on November 18th and expand to a wide version on December 2nd.