The Inspection Review: Jeremy Pope Gives A Powerful Performance In Elegance Bratton's Emotional Drama [TIFF]

Ellis French is a gay Black man going through a particularly brutal Marine Corps boot camp (is there any other kind?). His fellow recruits have figured out that he is gay despite his best efforts, and his life has become a living hell. When he's finally asked why he's even bothering with all of this torment, he tearfully replies, "If I die in this uniform, I'm a hero." It's a brutal moment of heartbreaking honesty in the middle of "The Inspection," Elegance Bratton's strong drama inspired by his own life story. Like Bratton, Ellis — played by Jeremy Pope in a star-making turn — joined the Marines in an attempt to win back his bigoted mother (Gabrielle Union). Ellis' mom disapproves of Ellis' gay lifestyle so much that she's more or less cut him completely out of her life, and when he pays her a visit to let her know he's joining the Marines, she insists on putting newspapers down on the couch before allowing Ellis to sit.

Ellis is at a crossroads. He's homeless, living in a shelter, and decides he needs some sort of change. Perhaps becoming a Marine will earn him his mother's respect, and set him on a new path. Of course, anyone who has seen "Full Metal Jacket" can tell you going through Marine boot camp is akin to going through hell itself. Right from the start, Ellis and his fellow recruits are tormented by a no-nonsense Gunnery Sergeant (a genuinely scary Bokeem Woodbine). But while the Seargent eventually begins to respect most of his fellow recruits, Ellis' Queer nature makes him a constant target.

"The Inspection" is about Ellis eventually learning to accept who he really is, but it's a long, hard road. The torments of boot camp are in full effect, as Ellis and his fellow recruits go through the wringer. He's not alone in being singled out, but as almost the entire movie is seen through his eyes, it's his troubles we're most in tune with. And Pope is remarkable at drawing us into Ellis' mind. Bratton relies heavily on montages, and while that could be a crutch, it works here, effectively communicating the horrible drudgery of it all. The mud, the sweat, the blood, the pain. As the Gunnery Sergeant explains, the whole purpose of boot camp is to break these men down.

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While many of Ellis' fellow recruits catch on to his sexuality and have nothing but ill will towards him, others are sympathetic, like Ismail (Eman Esfandi), a Muslim ostracized by the white men around him (the film is set in 2005, close enough to 9/11 that the post-attack Muslim xenophobia is still in full-swing). And then there's Rosales (Raul Castillo), an officer who is genuinely kind and supportive towards Ellis for personal reasons. The moments between Ellis and Rosales are heartbreakingly tender and are often the only such moments in a frequently brutal film.

Employing a massive, pumping musical score from Animal Collective, "The Inspection" wears you down (not as much as real boot camp though, of course). It gets into your head and wrenches your heart, and while the results are often grim, there's a layer of hope lurking beneath it all as Ellis comes into his own. At the same time, "The Inspection" feels a touch too slight — it begins to grow repetitive. You could argue that's fitting, since the life these Marines-in-training are in the middle of is repetitive. But it doesn't mean the film couldn't use a boost. Bratton also relies on one too many dream/fantasy sequences to further things along.

No matter — Pope's performance is so raw, so honest, that we're with him every step of the way. The actor carries what seems like years of self-hatred and confusion in his eyes, and he undergoes a physical transformation that makes him appear to be a completely different person by the time the story ends. But maybe he's not a different person. Maybe he's just who he was always meant to be.

/Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10