‘The Inspection’: Bratton’s personal movie is worth a careful look

“The Inspection” (2022) – “Many people think of perfectionism as striving to be your best, but it is not about self-improvement; it’s about earning approval and acceptance.” – Brene Brown

Yearning for acceptance might be a universal trait.  You could argue that counter-culture types buck this prevalent trend by “defining themselves in opposition to the mainstream.”   However, individuals living outside convention also covet their like-minded, eccentric soulmates, so seeking out recognition – for public or personal audiences – seems like a unanimous feature of the human spirit. 

Ellis French (Jeremy Pope) – a 20-something pauper loitering on the streets – makes a life-changing decision, one that pleas for survival and seeks acceptance.  

The former is born out of practicality because, by his internal estimation, he could be dead at 30.

Ellis hasn’t lived with his mom (Gabrielle Union) since his teen years, at 16 years young, to be precise.  Director/writer Elegance Bratton implies that Inez (Union) kicked her son out of her apartment but explicitly presents that they’ve been estranged for years due to one inescapable fact. 

Inez French (Gabrielle Union) and Ellis French (Jeremy Pope)

Ellis is gay, and Inez doesn’t accept it.  Yes, he seeks out the latter for an audience of one.

(For the record, Union delivers one of the year’s best supporting performances.  Inez is frank, cold, and ruthless.  Still, she carries her truth with the conviction of a devout Jesuit priest lying on his deathbed or an admitted alien abductee bellowing her story to the local police.  Makeup artist Ren Rohling worked wonders because he transformed this beautiful actress into Inez, a 40-something mom who appears to have smoked four packs of cigarettes per day for 80 years straight.)

Off-camera, Ellis joins the U.S. Marines as a last resort of sorts.  Bratton sets the timeline some years back, during Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, where gay and lesbian recruits could participate in the country’s military, but they essentially had to remain closeted.

Straight away, Bratton establishes two main points of contention for Ellis: conflicts with his mother and his chosen profession.  Bratton’s film is a deeply personal one. 

In a September 2022 The Hollywood Reporter interview, Bratton explains, “(This movie) is 100 percent autobiographical when it comes to the hopes and fears and the motivations of our lead character, but the situations are a composite of different marines that I had the pleasure of serving with and other stories that I heard.”

To tell his story, Bratton leans on 30-year-old Jeremy Pope, who delivers a marvelous, nuanced performance that’s vastly physical but also emotionally demonstrative.  Pope’s Ellis isn’t wrestling with his sexuality, but he struggles against his environment. 

Ellis (Pope) and Rosales (Raul Castillo)

Walking into the movie, one might anticipate an avalanche of malice that awaits him.  On a personal note, this critic’s imagination was immediately sent to Parris Island, S.C. and the horrific events of Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” (1987).

In some respects, that brutality is realized. It materializes in the form of Sgt. Leland Laws (Bokeem Woodbine).  Laws and a pair of his chief enforcers bark, woof, and snarl orders with the regularity of everyday breathing patterns as they “accidentally” spray spit and create micro 90-mph wind gusts aimed directly at the unsuspecting newcomers. 

The freshly over-18 crowd also faces daunting physical challenges that we’ve seen in other big-screen boot camp affairs: obstacle course activities, shooting practice, and supervised and unsupervised hand-to-hand combat.  Ellis possesses a warrior mindset to push through the tasks and encounters.  However, moments turn darker when his sexuality becomes exposed. 

Circling back to “Full Metal Jacket”, two primary divergences emerge.  First, Bratton and his team don’t enjoy Kubrick’s big-budget luxuries, as everyday discourse and run-ins in “The Inspection” sit in grounded, earthy spaces, sometimes with dim lighting.  Still, nearly every minute of the lengthy second act feels wholly authentic.  This fact helps elevate the stakes for our lead, a man with who we already felt deep sympathy.  

Ellis (Pope)

Bullying, intimidation, and badgering might be the ABCs – or the BIBs – of boot camp, but these long-standing practices are designed to turn civilians into marines.  Still, this progression is upsetting to witness.  Since Ellis confronts additional adversity than his heterosexual brothers and sisters, the film could quickly escalate into a 95-minute severe slog of cinematic cruelty.  Thankfully, in a second noted departure, the screenplay turns away from this notion.  Ellis has allies within his ranks, and he discovers reprieves that grant him – and us – moments of solace.

Still, he faces true peril because even during Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, questions are asked. 

Laws demands, “Are you now or have you ever been a homosexual?”

Ellis screams back, “No, Sir!”

Through Pope’s bold performance, Bratton’s personal script, and Tommy Love and Erik Louis Robert’s realistic production design, you might find yourself thinking beyond Ellis’ training.  His daily scraps in the weeds become less critical because the more significant questions become:  Will Ellis survive this experience?  If so, how will he change?  Will he find the aforementioned acceptance that he seeks?

He confronts fire and brimstone, but life already sacked him with worse:  his mother’s rejection.    Therefore, his altruistic pursuit for perfection could be worth it.

⭐⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Directed and written by:  Elegance Bratton

Starring:  Jeremy Pope, Gabrielle Union, Bokeem Woodbine, Raul Castillo, McCaul Lombardi, and Nicholas Logan

Rated: R

Runtime:  95 minutes

Image credits: A24

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