The Inspection is now playing in cinemas nationwide.
In 2019 director Elegance Bratton brought us the outstanding Pier Kids. Made between 2011 and 2016, Bratton’s documentary about three homeless LGBTQ+ youth of colour earnt rave reviews and found itself compared to Jennie Livingston’s Paris Is Burning (1990). Bratton was no stranger to the experience of the young people he followed; he had also been homeless for ten years before joining the Marine Corps in 2005. As Bratton escaped the streets for military life, the events of 9/11 still haunted the United States, and while here in the UK, gays and lesbians could serve openly in the Armed Forces, in the US, the lifting of restrictions was still six years away. The Inspection may use fictional names, but this is Bratton’s story of survival, courage and rebirth.
Ellis French (Jeremy Pope) has been living on the streets for years after being kicked out of his New Jersey home due to his sexuality by his religious mother (Gabrielle Union). The streets are harsh, and Ellis knows that if he stays there much longer, he will be consumed by the darkness; therefore, he, like so many others seeking escape, decides to join the Marines. It’s clear from the moment he steps off the bus that Ellis sees the Marines as an opportunity to make his mother proud and win back her love. But is Ellis simply in denial of his mum’s engrained homophobia and cruelty?
As Ellis arrives at a training camp, the realities of the ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell era’ become apparent as he tries to hide his sexuality from fellow trainees and the officers who bark orders in his ear. But sometimes the truth finds a way out, and in a camp dripping with testosterone, bravado and aggression, it’s not long before Ellis finds his sexuality the main topic of discussion.
The American military camp drama is nothing new. From Kubrick’s anti-war masterpiece Full Metal Jacket to Mike Nichols’ coming-of-age comedy Biloxi Blues, each film has offered us a different take on the military boot camp experience through shared themes of masculinity, friendship, violence and toxicity. Elegance Bratton, in part, follows the standard narrative arc of these films in recounting his own story, from his rough treatment at the hands of a sadistic instructor Sgt. Laws (Bokeem Woodbine) to the helping hand of Rosales (Raúl Castillo) in discovering his hidden strengths.
THE INSPECTION. Credit: Patti Perret/A24 Films
However, unlike many of its predecessors, The Inspection also jettisons many of the expected boot camp cliches and tropes. Bratton’s film is not an anti-war movie or a tale of friendship under fire; neither is it an exploration of conflict and death following a brutal training regime or a coming-of-age journey wrapped in comradery. The Inspection is, instead, the story of a young man who longs to win back his mother’s love and escape the street life he has been forced to endure. It is a story of family breakdown, religious oppression and a proud gay black man determined not to allow others to define him, his place or his position.
Bratton’s film may not achieve the dramatic heights or narrative complexity of Oliver Hermanus’ Moffie (2019). But it does offer us a heartbreaking and captivating story of a man looking for an escape, a conflicted and damaged mother’s love and an institution that ultimately provides personal rebirth despite its flaws and prejudice. While The Inspection only partially manages to unpack all these discussions and, at times, trips up, it also offers us moments of dramatic brilliance, from Pope’s understated performance to Union’s heartbreaking portrait of toxic love. Parts of Bratton’s film are born from a painful memory, a sexual rush or a physical experience that left a lasting scar, and it is within these moments, The Inspection earns its stripes.
United States | 1hr 35min | 2022
While The Inspection only partially manages to unpack all these discussions and, at times, trips up, it also offers us moments of dramatic brilliance from Pope’s understated performance to Union’s conflicted sense of mothery love. Parts of Bratton’s film are born from a painful memory, a sexual rush or a physical experience that left a lasting scar, and it is within these moments, The Inspection earns its dramatic stripes.