The Inspection draws powerful lessons from a real-life military experience

Gabrielle Union and Jeremy Pope help director Elegance Bratton bring his poignant journey to life

The Inspection draws powerful lessons from a real-life military experience
Jeremy Pope as Ellis French in Elegance Bratton’s The Inspection. Photo: A24

The Inspection isn’t a perfect movie, but there are times when it feels like it’s tantalizingly close. In his directorial debut, Elegance Bratton’s very personal story about a young gay soldier subverts the familiar tropes of military dramas that center on a lost soul whose enlistment helps them find whatever they are searching for—most often themselves. For his variation, based on his own life, Bratton tells a timely and emotionally honest tale that’s equally heartfelt and heartbreaking, and his screenplay threads a compelling narrative around inspired thematic tentpoles, tackling the struggles many have to accept themselves while navigating the expectations of society and its institutions.

The Inspection tells the poignant story of Ellis French (Jeremy Pope), who enlists in the Marines and endures every fresh hell that boot camp has to offer in an effort to please his mother, Inez (a career-best performance from Gabrielle Union). A decade prior, she deeply hurt Ellis when she kicked him out of the house and left him homeless. He’s been trying to find himself ever since, and perhaps counterintuitively, the military seems to him like the best place to look.

While Bratton arguably spends more time on Ellis’ boot camp experiences than necessary, these scenes are bolstered by several memorable performances—especially from Pope, whose effortless service of each scene epitomizes the phrase “star-making turn.” He especially shines in his character’s interactions with hard-ass drill sergeant Leland Laws, played by Bokeem Woodbine. Laws’ motives for testing and pushing the limits of his would-be American heroes are more nuanced than expected from a character who’s a military drama staple, and Woodbine effortlessly uses that shading in a role that belongs on his own career highlight reel.

The refreshing depth of Woodbine’s character, as well as that of McCaul Lombardi’s button-pushing fellow recruit, elevates the material above its genre’s familiar formulas. This complexity becomes particularly meaningful when Ellis’ search for identity—in the presence of malignant homophobia—becomes increasingly complicated within an institution designed to strip individuality from its enlistees. Bratton expertly mines pockets of humor in French’s boot camp interactions, and then balances them with the soul-searching that leads him inevitably back to his mother.

The Inspection | Official Trailer HD | A24

Their strained relationship is the movie’s broken but beating heart—one made all the more palpable by Union’s scary-good performance. Inez is powered by an unpredictable mix of scorn and love that she feels toward Ellis, but crucially lacks the emotional intelligence required to more effectively navigate her behavior and its consequences upon her son. Union creates a constant tension that never hints at what mood she’ll be in. This helps make each scene between her and Pope all the more gripping, especially thanks to Bratton’s unobtrusive visual approach to these moments. He views their damaged relationship through a vulnerable lens, and he does so in a way that makes its personal specificity feel relatable, or at the very least spark some empathy for anyone seeking to be seen and heard by a parent or loved one who’s too emotionally inhibited to do so.

Building a movie on and around empathy, and releasing it into a world that could sorely use some, is just one of the many impressive feats The Inspection pulls off. There are other, showier awards contenders out there vying for the “For Your Consideration” spotlight, but you will be hard-pressed to find one more satisfying than Bratton’s exceptional, must-see film.

Join the discussion...