Gay filmmaker Elegance Bratton’s feature-length debut “The Inspection” (A24) lets viewers know from the start that it’s “inspired by a true story.”
The story happens to be Bratton’s, a gay man who not only endured homophobia at home from his hard-nosed mother (to whom the movie is dedicated) but also as a Marine recruit in the early 2000s.
In this dramatized version of Bratton’s experiences, which begins in 2005, out actor and Golden Globe nominee Jeremy Pope (who also has Tony Award nominations to his credit) plays Ellis French, a young Black man who was kicked out of his house by his mother Inez (Gabrielle Union in a breakthrough performance) at 16 for being gay. Tired of living in a homeless shelter, Ellis decides to enlist in the Marines.
First, he needs to get his birth certificate from Inez. At her apartment, she keeps the chain attached to the door while she talks to Ellis standing in the hallway. The first thing she asks isn’t how he is, but if he’s in trouble. When he tells her why he’s there, she lets him in but continues to insult him, first putting a newspaper down on her couch for him to sit on, and then saying something cruel about how the birth certificate is all she has left of the dreams she had for him. Mother of the year, she’s not.
On the bus to boot camp in South Carolina, the astute French observes the behaviors of some of his fellow recruits and can already tell that his life during training is going to be challenging. Senior drill instructor Laws (Bokeem Woodbine) makes it clear that only the strongest among them will move forward and join the fight. He hates recruits, but he loves Marines. So begins French’s brutal and spirit-breaking induction.
Within days, French’s life is made miserable, following a group shower sexual fantasy and the accompanying erection. French is first humiliated and then brutally beaten. In the barracks, he is forced to move his bunk away from the others and continues to suffer more physical and verbal abuse. This occurs at the hands of many of his fellow recruits, but mostly from the relentless Laws who is evil and borderline psychotic.
The one bright light is an officer named Rosales (Raúl Castillo, who played gay in the “Looking” movie and TV series), who alternates between showing concern (bordering on affection) for French and rebuffing him. This only complicates things because French is seriously attracted to Rosales whose signals are confusing. Rosales even privately confronts Laws, partly on French’s behalf.
Of course, French isn’t the only recruit who is the recipient of Laws’ abuse. Muslim enlistee Ismail (Eman Esfandi) is also a target. Naturally, Laws also finds a fellow bully among the recruits, Harvey (McCaul Lombardi), to make French and Ismail’s lives a living hell. Laws even gets Harvey to help him in sabotaging one of French’s essential tests.
Ultimately, French triumphs in his mission not “to die just another homeless faggot.” The recruits pass inspection and take part in the second battalion graduation ceremony. To his surprise, Inez shows up for his big day. But the celebratory mood is short-lived as we see how much Ellis has changed, and how little Inez has.
The Golden Globes air on NBC, and stream on Peacock, on Jan. 10.
Gregg Shapiro is the author of eight books including the poetry chapbook Fear of Muses (Souvenir Spoon Books, 2022). An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBTQ+ and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.