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film review

Jeremy Pope, left, and Raúl Castillo in a scene from The Inspection.Patti Perret/Courtesy of levelFILM

  • The Inspection
  • Written and directed by Elegance Bratton
  • Starring Jeremy Pope, Gabrielle Union and Bokeem Woodbine
  • Classification R; 95 minutes
  • Opens in select theatres Dec. 2

Critic’s Pick

“If we got rid of every gay person in the military there would be no military,” says a character in writer-director Elegance Bratton’s The Inspection. These are words born from the filmmaker’s own experience. After being kicked out of his family home at the age of 16 for being gay, Bratton navigated homelessness for nearly a decade before enlisting in the Marine Corps. The Inspection is Bratton’s story brought to life through the character of Ellis French (Jeremy Pope), who endures similar hardships after his mother Inez’s (Gabrielle Union) rejection of him.

Like Bratton’s, French’s reality is not one where queerness threatens to be exposed from underneath a performative cloak of hypermasculinity. His queerness is uncontainable – discernible in his speech, gestures and movements; it’s not a secret waiting to be revealed, but rather inherently linked to French’s very embodiment. Rather than being supposedly hidden in plain sight (and afforded a relative degree of safety because of that), it emerges, willfully, in everyday glances and sleights of tone.

What French’s military peers are to do with this very discernible nature forms the core of The Inspection. The year is 2005, and “don’t ask, don’t tell” is the dominant narrative for enlisted queer and trans individuals. With this knowledge, Bratton’s film asks: In a hypermasculine and homophobic space such as the Marine Corps, what might the social reality look like for someone who is so legibly queer? Especially when his heterosexual counterparts are so easily and safely able to express their own sexualities.

The answer is brutal. The acts of violence that French experiences from his squad and its leaders run the gamut from hazing to full-on assault and even attempted murder. Drill Sergeant Leeland Laws (Bokeem Woodbine), a domineering figure who boasts of confirmed kills in the field, is key in weaponizing French’s fellow recruits against him, enabling – and, at times, initiating – the assaults and indignities that he suffers.

It’s an indictment of the culture of the Marine Corps itself that a person in a position of leadership would actively target a green recruit. Clearly repulsed by French’s sexuality, Laws undermines the young man even as he notes his tenacity and will. “My job is not make Marines, it’s to make monsters,” the sergeant bellows to his unit, making known his desire to shape the men into his own image. What Bratton underscores is that this need to destroy French as Laws himself has been destroyed is only intensified by French’s refusal to deny his identity.

Gabrielle Union in The Inspection.Patti Perret/Courtesy of levelFILM

But some of the scenes with the greatest impact are ones that offer moments of vulnerability and imagination as acts of refusal. As much as the film maps the harms enacted upon French, it also traces the forms of reprieve that he is able to carve out for himself. A previously ignored French receiving a benevolent weapons inspection from a unit leader; instances of compassion and solidarity between French and his peers (particularly those likewise targeted for their perceived failures of identity); French’s shower fantasy of the unit taking part in a luxioursly queer act of cruising – all of these moments offer possibility for the men we see here, allowing them to exist fully within this otherwise confining space.

With The Inspection, Bratton has continued working with the humanist lens through which he shaped his captivating 2019 documentary Pier Kids. The labour the filmmaker undertakes here is similarly personal and intimate; it is clearly an act of healing as well as an offering for others who see their lives echoed.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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