A gay Marine cadet is good at training to become a Marine but pretty terrible at hiding his sexual orientation in The Inspection, an oft-captivating drama that maybe doesn’t redraw battle lines but makes a valiant effort nonetheless.
Elegance Bratton writes and directs the film inspired by his real-life experiences, in which he faces some pretty harsh homophobia (I suppose it’s not the best look to get a boner while showering with a bunch of male soldiers) but due to sheer tenacity (and some surprise support) is able to find camaraderie during his boot camp stint. Jeremy Pope plays young Ellis, who faces a hellish path above and beyond what other cadets face. From a bullying commander who nearly drowns him to death to ruthless comrades who are out to get him, Ellis navigates severe challenges to achieve his goals.
Pope is excellent, delivering a fiery and emotional performance. The film rests largely on his shoulders and he helps elevate the material as best he can. Meanwhile, Gabrielle Union gives a blistering turn as his bigoted mother; perhaps more impressive is the makeup and styling work to “uglifier” her to the point where is barely recognizable. Literally, at a few points through the film, I asked myself, “Is that Gabrielle Union?” only to convince myself, “Nahhhh.”
Acting aside, The Inspection has a lot to like. The score by Animal Collective comes in small but bombastic bursts. The story is efficiently told; Bratton barely wastes an inch of celluloid. The film not only conveys powerful emotions but makes you feel the terror, frustration, anger, and even humiliation Ellis faces at any given moment.
All that said, The Inspection doesn’t quite stand out from the pack (the nondescript title, which has deep if somewhat obscure meaning in the context of the story, doesn’t help). While Ellis’ experience as a gay man presents a different angle than most, the movie lingers in “typical boot camp training sequence” territory and never really breaks free of those trappings. In short, it’s a good movie, but is it a uniquely memorable one?
The Inspection is one of the better movies of the year, hampered only by a story that doesn’t strike as original as you’d expect. Still, it’s worth a salute.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.