When Ellis French (Jeremy Pope, "One Night in Miami") goes to visit his mother (executive producer Gabrielle Union), she keeps the chain lock on her door, asks him if he’s in trouble and what the ‘notice to appear’ in the mail she slips out to him is all about. Her son surprises her by asking for his birth certificate. The homeless man rejected by his mother since the age of sixteen because of his homosexuality is about to make a bid to turn his life around by enlisting in The Marines in “The Inspection.”
Laura's Review: B
Writer/director Elegance Bratton's ("Pier Kids") makes his narrative feature debut grappling with his complicated relationship with his mother and the boot camp training that gave him purpose and community. The beautifully cast film gives Bratton a true collaborator in Pope, whose heartfelt and emotionally stirring performance gives the audience the filmmaker’s POV into the tough and troubling experience through which he ultimately triumphs.
At first, we’re not even sure just what Inez French holds against her son, as she even lines a couch cushion with newspaper before allowing him to sit (the wall behind him full of religious prints provides a clue). Ellis arrives at boot camp where he and the others have ‘Have you ever been convicted of a felony?,' ‘Are you Communist?,’ and other accusations screamed into their ears. It’s 2005, the days of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell,’ so naturally the interrogation ends with ‘Are you homosexual?’ French responds to all with ‘No, Sir!’ Laws (Bokeem Woodbine, "Queen & Slim") informs the new squad ‘I hate recruits. But I love Marines.’
After some initial training exercises, Harvey (McCaul Lombardi, "Patti Cake$") is made squad leader, but Laws reserves special praise for Ellis, noting he pushed himself beyond his physical limit. But trouble brews immediately afterward when French, daydreaming in the communal shower, has an erection which brands his sexual preference. He’s banished from the barracks by fellow recruits, but after getting a wink from Drill Sergeant Rosales (Raúl Castillo, "We the Animals"), he finds mutual emotional and sexual comfort.
There will be other incidents, the black drill sergeant the worst culprit, practically drowning French and painting Ismail (Eman Esfandi, "King Richard") an enemy target, a stunt which even Harvey objects to. French may not report Laws, but he is defiant, applying blue eye shadow and lipstick instead of war paint. Graduation day, however, illustrates just how strong the Marine bond is when Inez, shocked that the military didn’t ‘straighten’ Ellis out, attempts to label her own son unworthy. It’s a powerful moment, compounded by the private one shared by mother and son in a hallway aftermath.
"Minari" cinematographer Lachlan Milne’s shooting is pretty straightforward, training exercises often shot from below as men clamber above, Ellis’s dreamy reveries more fluid. Animal Collective ("Waves") uses bold percussion to march the film forward and shatter any calm. Bratton’s debut is relatively small in scope, but big on defining human experience, his direction of his cast assured.
Robin's Review: B
Ellis’s (Jeremy Pope) mom, Inez (Gabrielle Union), threw him out of her home when, at age 16, he told her that he is gay. After years of estrangement, he returns home not to make amends but to get his birth certificate and announce he has enlisted in the Marines in “The Inspection.”
First time feature director Elegance Bratton, tells an inspired version of his own life as a young gay man rejected by his mother and wanders aimlessly through life until he makes a future-changing decision to join the Marines and deal with his own life as a gay man.
As the film starts Ellis makes the big decision that will change him forever. He goes to Inez and tells her his choice to go into the Marines and she, again, rejects him declaring he will fail. The lack of maternal support does not deter him as he enters the brave new world as a Marine boot.
What this gripping character study does is show the complicated life he faces as a gay man in the military. I questioned, because of the far right’s backlash against the LGBTQ+ community, why a young gay man would bring such potential abuse on himself by entering a homophobic military society, The answer became obvious as Ellis’s story unfolds. It is a story of personal integrity and the desire to do what is right for him, even as he fights prejudice. Jeremy Pope fills Ellis’s uniform quite well.
This against-all-odds story really brings the obstacles and burdens facing a gay person in our fractured society to the true light of day. It is about overcoming those obstructions and making a life that keeps one’s dignity intact.
A24 opens "The Inspection" in select theaters on 11/18/22, expanding on 11/23/22.