Toronto Review: Elegance Bratton’s ‘The Inspection’

·3 min read

Elegance Bratton’s narrative feature directorial debut film, A24’s The Inspection, takes a sharp look at military culture and the perils of being an outsider aiming to conform and build a life for themselves.

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Ellis French (Jeremy Pope) is gay and homeless. He lives in a shelter but has plans to join the Marines because he thinks he doesn’t have a choice. To get the necessary documents for his enlistment, he visits his mother, Inez (Gabrielle Union), to obtain his birth certificate. At first, she doesn’t want to let him into the home but eventually she gives in, just to berate him for his “lifestyle.” The two don’t have a good relationship with one another, and it hurts Ellis. He’s striving for her approval and thinks joining the corps will change that.

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When he arrives at basic training, the young man meets his training instructors, Law (Bokeem Woodbine), Brookes (Nicolas Logan) and Rosales (Raúl Castillo), and they are the epitome of military men. They scream, yell and do things that would get them fired if higher-ups knew about it. Ellis is determined to get through the next three months by any means necessary. He has no other options; it’s either succeed or be back on the street, and he refuses to return to that life.

Bratton crafts a raw and surreal experience with The Inspection. It’s a deeply personal story, and he should be given applause for the level of vulnerability present in this story. Being exposed as homosexual during the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” era could get you discharged, and at one point during the film, the trainers even ask at intake processing if members are gay. Bratton displays the military as a microcosm of the world at large, filled with racism, sexism, toxic masculinity and homophobia. We get examples of all of those things during his time at basic.

Everyone joins the military with a purpose, but there are a large number of service members who join out of desperation. The benefits of free college tuition, medical care, three square meals and a roof over one’s head are alluring. Plus, it’s the most prominent social safety net the U.S. has to offer. Ellis is hell-bent on getting Inez to notice him and his accomplishments. However, on the journey, he turns that hope inward and realizes he’s become a better man, despite his mother’s disapproval. That’s the “point” of the military: to break the person you were and build you into someone new, someone aligned with the principles of the military-industrial complex. This person, who has a new sense of self, can let go of his mother and her toxic ways. He doesn’t need her acceptance. He found that within himself, in addition to his newly chosen family — the Marines.

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The Inspection is a strong first outing for the writer-director. It shows his ability to shape character and garner emotion from actors like Pope and Union, who give contemplative and emotional performances. Bratton has a bright future in Hollywood.

I am looking forward to seeing more from him. 

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