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The Inspection ★★★★



Director: Elegance Bratton

Cast: Raúl Castillo, Bokeem Woodbine, Gabrielle Union, Aubrey Joseph, Eman Esfandi and McCaul Lombardi

Release Date: February 17th 2023

As an introverted, closeted teen saddled with an ex-army stepdad who seemed to revel in the psychological harm he inflicted, enforced further by my reluctant involvement in the cadets as a means of ‘making me a man’. Toxic masculinity was rife throughout that torrid time, with the weekend camps only heightening my insecurities and fuelling further inquisition about my sexuality, soon taking a shine to the odd strapping adult officer.

The sensitivity displayed throughout The Inspection lingers long in the memory, but a sense of place in my life remained a luxury that many queer people aren’t always afforded. Spare a thought for director Elegance Bratton, an openly gay black man at the tender age of 16, only to be kicked out by his family and left homeless for a decade. He is pouring his heart and soul into this muscular portrait of how such prejudice is deeply entrenched, celebrating the human spirit’s tenacity with the Marines offering a lifeline for all the tough-talking that temporarily rings in your ears.

Turn back the clock to 2005 in Trenton, New Jersey. An early stinging remark of ‘I made peace losing you’ is a body blow delivered by Gabrielle Union’s mother figure Inez, to her winded son Ellis French (Jeremy Pope) returning home, signalling his intent to enlist. A damning insight into a complicated relationship he must handle with extreme care. He was laying down sheets of newspaper on the sofa before he sat, a visual nod to how she treated him as yesterday’s news.

The gruelling nature of boot camp is an environment that can swiftly tear away the layers of your supposed emotional and mental toughness. Drill sergeants like Bokeem Woodbine’s Laws were ever a reliable source for such authoritarianism, barking orders at French and his fellow recruits in a bid to uphold his very high standards. What Ellis doesn’t bank on from these uber-aggressive displays is the vulnerable ‘weak spot’ detected in second-in-command Rosales (Raul Castillo), who may just be that nurturing source he’s long craved. He is already developing a thick skin with nowhere to call home.

Bratton was honing his craft before The Inspection through documentaries. Its tight, confrontational close-ups are befitting of a story that seeks lofty answers from institutions mired in homophobia and bigotry but also more intimate responses closer to home within oneself and those that brought you into the world.

Dabbling in thumping techno beats arguably more associated with queer clubs, jarring in effect as Bratton amplifies the unrelenting attack of those at the top. Whilst heightening the fantasy of French experiencing proper affection, we, the viewer, become lost in the purple haze of the showers with him, surveying this array of ripped torsos led by an alluring Rosales. All are skillfully deployed to solidify how discombobulating it is for French to be authentic in this hyper-masculine setting. Bratton also leaves room for humorous subversion, with the bemusement met by French’s warpaint look in one instance, a disarmingly powerful statement in the face of such harmful machismo.

He is armed with the role of Inez, which could be written off as a one-note irredeemable monster. Gabrielle Union’s searing portrayal isn’t so easily defined by the surface-level malice he dishes out. A correctional officer herself whose staunchly religious worldview arguably keeps her behind bars, which should be mirroring her son in breaking out of this metaphorical jail of ill feeling. Adamant that the streets would kill him no matter what. He is defiant in his refusal to be just another statistic as he seeks a true sense of self-worth. Jeremy Pope’s fearlessly combative, full-blooded performance as French warrants his being propelled into the higher ranks of Hollywood, with the nuances of his ever-evolving character conveyed with such honesty.

Given its lean runtime, the film’s angling for forgiveness may need more ammunition to fully hit its target. Despite that minor qualm, The Inspection’s immense performance and tender direction command your attention.

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