‘The Inspection’ review: Militarism and gay identity clash in this emotional ride
Jeremy Pope in The Inspection.

The new film The Inspection centers on a young Black gay man in the early 2000s trying to figure out what he wants to do with his life. His homophobic mother kicked him out when he was only 16, and he’s been living on the streets for ten years. In order to somehow make his mother proud—and find his way out of poverty—he decides to join the Marines.

Although the movie focuses heavily on the protagonist’s desire to earn his mother’s love, the true conflict, that is hard to ignore, lies with the idea of a Black gay man fighting to realize himself in an environment ripe with toxic masculinity and homophobia. The Inspection takes us on such a journey, with interesting results. The emotional impact is heavy, even if some themes in the film don’t feel completely fleshed out.

Written and directed by Elegance Bratton, the film is inspired by Bratton’s real-life experiences. Taking place shortly after the events on 9/11, Ellis (Jeremy Pope) is down on his luck and looking for a change. He’s been living on the streets for nearly a decade. Going to his mother (Gabrielle Union), he asks her for his birth certificate so that he can enroll in the Marine Corps. This begins his journey in the armed forces—where the majority of the film takes place—as we watch Ellis go through the required months of training camp before he can officially join the military.

During his time at boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., Ellis is unsuccessful in hiding his sexual orientation, making him the target of a near-lethal hazing from training instructor Leland Laws (Bokeem Woodbine) and some of his fellow recruits.

The Inspection has some strong performances and touches on a number of social topics. Pope is charming and vulnerable as our leading man. You want him to do well and somehow earn the love of a mother who may never truly accept him. Pope conveys the unconditional love and understanding of the complex relationship between Ellis and his mother. The issue with the character lies in not knowing why he is so understanding.

There’s a good amount of action in the film as we watch things happen on screen during the boot camp, but there aren’t as many scenes of dialogue or introspection for our main character. This leaves the audience to fill in the blanks on his motivation beyond simply wanting to make his mother proud. Ellis is a charming and sympathetic character, but there’s a mystery left around him, which seems odd given he is the focal point of the film.

The rest of the cast does a fine job of coloring the world around Ellis. Through a number of the characters, certain themes are explored. Ismail (Eman Esfandi) plays a Muslim recruit who has to deal with Islamophobia while training. Given that the film takes place shortly after 9/11, there are some pointed scenes that will no doubt transport viewers back to a time when xenophobia and blatant bigotry ran rampant—and was justified by segments of mainstream culture—when it came to Muslims in the United States after the Twin Towers were attacked.

None of the characters around Ellis are completely good or bad. Rather, the film seems to push the idea that many of the characters are greatly affected by their environment and circumstances. This leads into the themes of toxic masculinity and homophobia that are put on full display in the film.

Nothing is really held back when it comes to the ways that a military environment fosters aggression and enforces rigid notions of sexuality among young men. There are moments of push back against this system, then there are other moments of acceptance. The Inspection doesn’t necessarily condemn or glorify the military, but shows the various facets of it.

And therein lies what viewers will have to wrestle with during the film. We are shown the comradery that can grow between the recruits as they go through a transformative experience, but we’re also left weary about what some of them are becoming. There’s also the understanding that for many working-class people, the military has been seen for years as a way to escape poverty. Director Bratton does not shy away from this, and he does a good job, through the various characters, of touching on the different reasons young men enlist.

We don’t get much insight into the women recruits, as they are only seen through the lusting gaze of some of the men. It feels like a missed opportunity given the issues of rape and assault that far too many women reportedly experience in the military. That would have gone well with the exploration of the toxic masculinity that the military can enable, which Bratton somewhat shows in the film. Then again, being that The Inspection is an hour and thirty minutes long, it’s probably best that Bratton doesn’t add more onto an already full plate.

Gabrielle Union gives a strong performance as Ellis’s mother, Inez. She too is a gray character, and perhaps the true antagonist of the film. Union does well in giving some heart to an easily unlikable character.

Overall, The Inspection is an emotional ride that doesn’t necessarily come to hard conclusions on any of the many themes it touches. This makes it more of a slice-of-life film, as we watch Ellis in one chapter of his existence. It’s also refreshing to see a movie centering a Black gay man that has a somewhat feel-good aspect to it even if it is in the midst of emotional and physical turmoil.

The Inspection hits theaters Nov. 18, 2022.


Chauncey K. Robinson
Chauncey K. Robinson

Chauncey K. Robinson is an award winning journalist and film critic. Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, she has a strong love for storytelling and history. She believes narrative greatly influences the way we see the world, which is why she's all about dissecting and analyzing stories and culture to help inform and empower the people.