Writer/director Elegance Bratton’s “The Inspection” signals a talent to keep an eye on. [Film Fest 919]

A lot of (not all, don’t swarm me) these new kids like to think everything is peachy keen and hunky dory in the world of queerness in the modern world. Unlike so many generations before them, there are actual chances that can be had for queer kids to not only find acceptance within, but also amongst their families, their peers, and to thrive in an environment where they can truly be themselves. I’m not sure how much longer that can last with a reawakened right-wing obsession with LGBTQ+ people taking hold as progress moves backwards quickly, but for a brief shining moment, the kids were almost alright. Still, it’s hard for many of these younger queer kids to remember a time when basic rights were denied to us for no reason, not least of which being the inability to serve openly in any branch of the United States Armed Forces. Ironically put into place by Bill Clinton, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell wreaked havoc on our military for nearly 20 years, ruining the lives of so many soldiers simply for failing to hide such an important element of their lives whether through discharge or from violence within their divisions, as homophobic violence could hardly be reported without also facing said discharge. This act perpetrated a system of homophobia and hatred within the military that, even in post-DADT days, has been hard to weed out after being ingrained into their culture for so long. Elegance Bratton, in his feature film debut, dramatizes his own experiences joining the military as a young, homeless gay man with The Inspection.

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Center: Jeremy Pope as French in Elegance Bratton’s THE INSPECTION. Photo courtesy of A24.

It is 2005, and Ellis French (Jeremy Pope) is a young, broke, homeless gay man living in Trenton, New Jersey, who needs a way out of his current life. Desperate, French decides to join the US Marines, now at the height of their operations in the Iraq war. After barely getting the assistance of his homophobic mother, Ines (Gabrielle Union), who kicked him out when he was 16 for being gay, he heads off to boot camp to begin his new life. Hoping to fly under the radar and escape the homophobia that made him homeless, French soon finds a culture of abuse and homophobia within the Marines when he finds suppressing such an important facet of one’s self, particularly in the high-stakes environment of Marine boot camp, is both an impractical and unhealthy expectation on any soldier.


L-R: Gabrielle Union as Ines and Jeremy Pope as French in Elegance Bratton’s THE INSPECTION. Photo courtesy of A24.

The Inspection is a film that roped me pretty quickly into a world so incredibly foreign to my own. There is quite possibly no world more different to that of spending an entire weekend at a film festival writing little reviews on each movie than that of Marine boot camp, and for that element alone, I can nearly classify The Inspection as a horror film. Unfortunately, The Inspection also doesn’t really always know exactly what story it wants to tell, often feeling like it’s still confused as to how so many homophobic systems in play want to be perceived. While the storytelling of French being unsure how to approach existing in a system that hates him is a compelling concept on paper, there are so many opportunities for profound meaning to that concept that is completely eschewed for a far more safe, conventional resolution. I get it from the character’s standpoint; he is a vulnerable man looking for any hope and affection he can find, but I struggle with Bratton’s approach to the material as a director 17 years on from the events. Leaving interpretation to the audience is fine, but leading a film to both praise and denigrate the violent systems of oppression that ruin queer kids’ lives at home and in the military creates a confused atmosphere that I never could recover fully from. I can’t root for the Marines, nor can I find redemption in his mother’s behavior (I almost did, but then learned my lesson), but I never felt like there was any sort of overarching thing to tie those evils together, nor does it feel like the film ever attempted to reckon with them in a critical manner.


L-R: Bokeem Woodbine as Drill Sergeant Leland Laws and Gabrielle Union as Ines in Elegance Bratton’s THE INSPECTION. Photo courtesy of A24.

Still, there is a lot to appreciate with The Inspection, particularly from the wonderfully intense performances across the board. Pope’s performance as French is powerful and heartbreaking, as all I wanted to do was hug this man and tell him how much better he deserves from those around him. It’s clear how much Bratton based French on his own experiences in the Marines, because there’s just a level of emotional depth to French that can only come from personal experience and collaboration. However, while Pope is great and Union is hatefully-spirited here (particularly moving when you remember she is the step-mother to a trans child), the one thing from The Inspection, even among its problems, that has not left me since seeing it is Bokeem Woodbine’s chilling performance as abusive drill sergeant Leland Laws. Channeling the worst of R. Lee Ermey’s Sgt. Hartman performance in Full Metal Jacket, there is a beautiful cruelty to his interpretation of the Iraq-era drill sergeant, complete with homophobia, anti-Muslim racism, violent sociopathy, etc. Still, it’s not until the theatrics of boot camp come down and we’re able to see Laws in his natural state that his performance becomes all the more unnervingly terrifying.


Writer/director Elegance Bratton on the set of THE INSPECTION. Photo courtesy of A24.

I struggled with The Inspection because it’s a film that often can’t make up its mind about how it wants to portray the abusive systems at play in French’s story. I found myself going along emotionally with the film as it portrayed the harsh reality of being gay in the Marines, and while I expected French to struggle with the emotions of realizing the world he used to escape his homophobic personal life is just as homophobic, as the film proceeded, I often found The Inspection to be confused about it as well. I made up my mind as an audience member very quickly, but the film around me went back and forth for a while, and still never settled on one real view. Still, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to what Bratton does next as a filmmaker, as I am deeply interested in his visual stylings, and the performances in The Inspection are excellent across the board, but the shocking turn from Bokeem Woodbine will be what stays with me for a long time, even if the film itself (hopefully in the light of a follow-up film more sure of itself) fades.

Screened during Film Fest 919 2022.
In theaters November 18th, 2022.

For more information, head to A24’s official The Inspection webpage.

Final Score: 2.5 out of 5.

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Categories: In Theaters, Reviews

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