How this gay Marine survives training is more exhilarating than its short time length.
“The Inspection” is based on the true story about how writer/director Elegance Bratton was kicked out of his home for being gay at the age of 16, and joined the Marines. It’s a short movie, running for 95 minutes, and it feels like it wants to combine “Moonlight” with “Full Metal Jacket,” as the main protagonist Ellis French (Jeremy Pope) is a gay, black young man and his drill sergeant Leland Laws (Bokeem Woodbine) is a mean prick.
I saw this at the Chicago International Film Festival, and I needed to process my opinions. I felt it has universally excellent performances and how we’re sympathetic towards the main protagonist, but it could have been longer and more complex in its story. It’s a movie that leaves you thinking about the directions this young man will head into, and relieved that the filmmaker who inspired him has stayed strong.
The movie opens with him going to his homophobic mother (Gabrielle Union) and asking for his birth certificate to join the army. She’s the kind of cigarette-smoking prison guard, who thinks she’s better than her son, whom she booted to the streets. Real mother of the year. But she gives him the certificate, and knows he’ll fail.
When he gets to the boot camp (located on Parris Island, South Carolina), he suffers more homophobic abuse from the other trainees and the drill sergeants. Leland says to his new recruits: “I will break you,” and intends to push them beyond their limits, and he also takes a strong dislike for Ellis.
The only drill officer who’s kind enough to get romantically involved with the boy is Laurence Harvey (Raul Castillo). Ellis tells him that the reason he enlisted is because of how he was hated by his mother and left out in the streets, knowing that people won’t care or know that he existed, and all his friends are either dead or in prison. He’s willing to risk his life to prove to everyone he would come out a hero, dead or alive.
“The Inspection”is a well-made combo that shows us the challenges and hatred this boy had to overcome from his life inside and outside the Marines, but it isn’t as powerful as “Moonlight” or “Full Metal Jacket.” I wonder how these drill sergeants would have treated him if he was autistic during a certain time, but that’s a whole other story. Besides nowadays, they’re actually looking for autistic recruits. But I’m getting off topic. Sorry about that.
Pope, who was also in “One Night in Miami,” gives a dramatic and emotional performance as the main recruit, who suffers through hardships, but acknowledges that if he doesn’t survive, the ones who discriminated him would win. He’s full of life and strength. Woodbine is well-picked as the drill sergeant, with his age, dispositions, and voice. He’s the kind of person you don’t want to be trained by. You want to hate this guy as you did with R. Lee Ermy’s sergeant role in “Full Metal Jacket.” And Union presents her role in ways I’ve never seen from her before. He’s knows how to hold her cigarette and belittle her son, and she’s the person you want to call: “Mother of the Year.”
I’ve been thinking and thinking about my overall reactions, and I think “The Inspection”keeps us involved and rooting for this boy to come out of the Marines as Elegance Bratton did. He couldn’t be more passionate about his youth, and he picks the right young actor to portray his protagonist. But the movie could have been longer and more challenging.
In Select Theaters This Friday