The Inspection: Fresh from the Fight, by David Bax
If you watch The Inspection knowing that it’s largely inspired by the actual experiences of writer/director Elegance Bratton (making his narrative feature debut), it’s hard not to repeatedly wonder how these events shaped him not just as a person but as a director. Bratton’s stand-in, Ellis (Jeremy Pope) is a young gay man who’s mostly homeless because of his bigoted and unaccepting mother, Inez (Gabrielle Union). Out of options other than drug addiction and worse, he joins the Marines. And it’s there, in basic training, that he finds inspiration in the discipline and rigor, even among the many hardships (made only worse by the fact that the movie takes place during the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” era.
That same discipline and rigor is evident in Bratton’s filmmaking. The Inspection is confidently told, economical and completely free of bullshit. Even in Ellis’ fantasy sequences, Bratton does not become overly indulgent. This is the work of a surprisingly assured director, especially one with relatively few credits under his belt so far. It probably helps that Bratton is also a photographer and thus accustomed to finding ways to say a lot with a little.
Most of The Inspection is about Ellis’ internal journey, which is a good thing since that’s also when it’s at its best. Pope is fantastic at letting us see without hanging a lantern on it how his struggle with himself is bigger than his clashes with his sadistic instructor (Bokeem Woodbine), thus making the latter more manageable, even when potentially life-threatening.
Ellis also has an even more intimidating external foe, his mother. In general, this part of the story seems to fall in line with the existing tropes of the gay child of inhumanely disapproving parents. But then, what do I know? I’ve never lived through any such pain myself so it’s hard to definitively label this piece of the movie false. Plus, Union is great, as usual.
Plus, Inez needs to be around because what would seem to be Ellis’ fatal flaw is his inability to write off this woman who refuses to love him unless it’s on her own narrow, hateful terms. A more pat version of this movie would have the military give Ellis the confidence to walk away from his mother and be fully his own man.
But that indefatigable compassion turns out to be more strength than weakness. Whenever people in military uniforms abound, the word “hero” tends to come up. And The Inspection is no exception. But it’s Ellis’ heart, not his duds, that make him a hero.