Based on writer-director Elegance Bratton’s own experiences, The Inspection follows a young gay man as he goes through a brutal boot camp to become a Marine. Read our review.
“Are you now or have you ever been a homosexual?”
These words are screamed at Ellis French by his senior drill instructor, played with a terrifying frenzy by Bokeem Woodbine. Set in 2005, Elegance Bratton’s feature directorial debut, The Inspection, takes place right in the middle of the United States military policy of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’.
The film follows French (Jeremy Pope) as he aspires to be a Marine, partly to get him off the streets and partly to prove something to himself and his estranged mother, played by Gabrielle Union. An accidental, poorly timed erection outs French as gay amongst his fellow hypermasculine recruits, resulting in sadistic bullying and discrimination.
There’s a valid and nuanced conversation to be had about whether we still need stories like this. Bratton is adapting his own experiences, but the film still primarily focuses on violence, shame and cruelty. Its setting and perspective are, without a doubt, personal; Bratton shines a light on the discrimination of LGBTQ+ people by the United States military and, by extension, the government. Although the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy officially ended in 2011, Bratton’s film feels contemporary and reflects the real-life experiences of many.
Bratton smartly and subtly constantly juxtaposes being queer and the inherent homoeroticism of being in the military. The men are obsessed with their guns and there is a very fine, almost indistinguishable line between basic locker room talk and flirting. This is where Bratton’s storytelling is at its best, but when The Inspection dips back into generic military drama, it becomes a lesser film.
Pope is magnificent in the lead role. He brings an appealing balance of sensitivity and tenacity to the role. Woodbine’s brutality gorgeously matches him. It’s a shame Bratton’s script doesn’t dig deeper into Woodbine’s character, and he’s left as a one-note villain, albeit a good one.
Gabrielle Union’s role is small, almost minuscule, but she transforms into a powerful performance. This woman was bittered and burned by her job as a prison guard and her religious beliefs. When French visits her to retrieve his birth certificate, she puts the newspaper on the sofa before letting him sit down.
The film places a lot of emphasis on family, the one we’re born with and the one we choose later in life. For the French, and Bratton, Marines are the only family they care to have. French’s career in the Marines is a source of long-overdue pride for his mother, but only if the military can beat the gay out of him.
Thankfully, Bratton never resorts to Full Metal Jacket-type brutality on screen. There are definitely flavours of Claire Denis’ impeccable Beau Travail, but ultimately, The Inspection isn’t interested in pushing any boundaries. While it’s a personal story, told with fury and anger, The Inspection remains a relatively traditional drama about being gay in the military.
Bratton’s writing and direction lack nuance, and the film is often quite heavy-handed with its symbolism. The film runs mainly on the superb performances but stumbles on the cliches of its chosen genre.
The Inspection is in cinemas on 17 February.