In a space that values power above all else, The Inspection shows that the strongest are the meek.
The Inspection tells the story of Ellis French (Jeremy Pope), a young gay Black man who has been rejected by his mother (Gabrielle Union) due to his sexuality. With few options, French joins the Marine Corp in an attempt to lay the groundwork for his future. However, as he enters into boot camp, he discovers a system that is rooted in toxicity and prepared to discard him.
Written and directed by Elegance Bratton, The Inspection is the type of film that feels as though it was cathartic for the creator. Setting the tone is a solid performance by Pope that speaks to the emotional challenges of his situation. As Private French, Pope infuses his character with a compelling mix of humility and strength. However, the strongest work by far comes from Union. As French’s unrelenting mother, Union is a harsh and bitter soul who struggles to acknowledge her son’s sexuality. In a performance unlike any we’ve seen from her before, her character is one that the viewer always hopes for yet is constantly disappointed by. While her screen time may be limited, it’s also undoubtedly some of the best work of her career.
On the surface, the film feels like an exploration of the struggles of the LGBTQ+ community during the years of ‘Don’t ask, Don’t tell’. As French strives to prove his worth, he is constantly met with opposition by the hyper masculine who feel threatened by his sexuality. Slurs and beat downs become common place in aworld that demands all men fit into the same mold. Similar to Oscar-darling Moonlight, Inspection wrestles with the challenges of living into one sexuality in a world that prevents them to do so.
However, in a deeper way, inspection is an exploration of toxicity, as these characters try to figure out what it means to be a man. Set in post-9/11 America, The Inspection delves into the brutality and shame that can exist within the American military. In this world, masculinity is synonymous with being a marine. (Note that this is not to say ‘male’, per se as the film does include female recruits as well.) Tasked with creating the next, elite-level of Marines, their commanding officer is vicious and unrelenting. To him, his responsibility is not to make them stronger, but to make them invincible. (“If [French] passes, he won’t be a man. He’ll be a monster, just like me,” he snarls.) Anything that strays away from the typical “Ooh-rah” brand of male energy is considered a threat to the military, and, by extension, American safety.
However, what sets French’s character apart is not only his sexuality. Instead, it is his compassionate heart which affects his every choice and action. For him, grace is always the order of the day, whether it is extended towards another hurting brother-in-arms or to his own estranged mother. While it may not change the system, his heart and soul shine brightly in the shadows of rage and toxicity.
Unlike other films designed to ‘pull the curtain back’ on the brutality of the military, Inspection fights for the souls of its marines. Though their superiors want to shape them into monsters, one cannot help but hope that they do not lose themselves in the process. This is a story that yearns for balance between military might and a compassionate heart. In this way, although Inspection may not challenge the military system itself, it still manages to call out those within it to redefine what it means to stand as the nation’s suit of armor.
For that reason, this is one Inspection that passes with full marks.
The Inspection is available in theatres on Friday, December 2nd, 2022.