The Inspection follows Ellis French (Jeremy Pope), a gay Black 20-something who ditches the streets and shelters of New York City for the harsh regiments of Marine boot camp in the south. Here, French and his fellow recruits undergo intense training designed to break them down, only to be built back up again into “monsters,” as drill instructor Laws (Bokeem Woodbine) explains. It’s cruel, but it’s all in the interest of making indestructible believers in unit, corps, God, country. But for French, that cruelty is exacerbated all the more by his sexual orientation, which does not remain a secret from the rest of the recruits for long. The abuse and ridicule French endures are significant, though as he explains in the movie’s centerpiece conversation, it’s still a better option than the one he left and the one waiting for him if he does not graduate.

Set in 2005 and filmed in a sometimes realistic, sometimes impressionistic style, The Inspection is a satisfying piece of performance, character, and tone. Comparisons to Full Metal Jacket are easy but not necessarily informative—Jacket broke the story into two parts: The creation of Marines and the destruction of men. The Inspection remains wholly at boot camp with the creation of Marines.

Written and directed by Elegance Bratton, The Inspection is based on the filmmaker’s experience in “don’t ask, don’t tell”-era boot camp. When the Marines are handed assignments based on aptitude tests, French delivers a knowing smile when handed photography.

Though the majority of The Inspection is contained to the 13-week Marine Corps training, Bratton sprinkles moments that extend into the world beyond. Laws is a terrifying and imposing figure on the track and in the bunkhouse, but when in his cups, he reveals himself to be more bully than revolutionary. Rosales (Raúl Castillo), the source of French’s fantasies, is having troubles at home. And French’s mom, Inez (Gabrielle Union), says everything about French’s upbringing with her silence. Only when she addresses the elephant in the room does her character tip into caricature.

Still, The Invitation is an engaging movie with two central performances from Pope and Castillo that linger in the mind long after the screen goes dark. Ditto for Bratton’s ability to effortlessly move between real and dream spaces. If, as Full Metal Jacket seems to say, the horror begins at boot camp, then The Inspection has a firm counter. Considering French’s quality of life before he joined the Marines, his enrollment is when the horror finally ended, and his real-life began.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Inspection (2022)
Written and directed by Elegance Bratton
Produced by Chester Algernal Gordon, Effie Brown
Starring: Jeremy Pope, Raúl Castillo, Bokeem Woodbine, Gabrielle Union
A24, Rated R, Running time 95 minutes, Opens Dec. 1, 2022

A version of this review first appeared in the pages of Boulder Weekly Vol. 30, No. 16, “Life during wartime.”