The Movie Waffler New to Netflix - THE INSPECTION | The Movie Waffler

New to Netflix - THE INSPECTION

A young gay black man seeks acceptance when he joins the Marines.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Elegance Bratton

Starring: Jeremy Pope, Raúl Castillo, McCaul Lombardi, Aaron Dominguez, Bokeem Woodbine, Gabrielle Union

The Inspection poster

The U.S. military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy regarding LGBTQ+ members prohibited people who "demonstrate a propensity (!) or intent to engage in homosexual acts" from serving in the army, as apparently their very presence "would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability." Never mind enemy fire, carpet bombs and weapons of mass destruction; it's the gays you've got to look out for lads. Inherent to the policy's verb phrase is a seeming non-harassment imperative for superiors, where any "investigation" into sexuality was permitted only if "credible homosexual behaviour" was witnessed (the mind boggles). However, this really translated to a paranoid context where proud and open gays faced instant dismissal. Once more, the gay man is the most feared figure in the room, capable of initiating public mandate and re-ordering the life and death priorities of Uncle Sam himself. Shock and awe, indeed.

The Inspection review

DADT ran from 1994 to 2011, an embarrassingly contemporary timeline which directly correlates the other morally ambiguous pursuits of the US army during that decade and a half. Elegance Bratton's The Inspection takes place during the administration's 2005 mid-point and is based on the gay filmmaker's own experiences of military bootcamp. Anchored by biography, the outlandish events which Ellis French (Jeremy Pope) undergoes are given heart-breaking and infuriating urgency. His drill sergeant Laws (a rivetingly malicious Bokeem Woodbine) homes in on him from day one, pledging to French that he "will break" him, while within the macho hierarchy of the training period his fellow recruits see him as a legitimate target for bullying. They don't like it up 'em.

To me, there has always been something deeply ostentatious about the US military anyway: all the pomp, the fussing over uniforms, the hoo-fucking-rah disco call.  No wonder they call it boot "camp," eh?! The Inspection furthermore suggests that the military is an institution suffused with a repressed yet insistent psychosexuality; we see Laws intimidate a recruit by handling the kid's rifle in the same manner one would stimulate the orifice of a lover, and in one bedtime sequence the straight soldiers all "jack off" (in the US parlance) to mail-day pornography under their sheets(!). I suppose there is an argument that closeness to death and violence thickens the blood, and moreover that repression intensifies such longing. Something is in the air alright, so it is perhaps plausible that French, while daydreaming about handsome bear officer Rosales (Raúl Castillo) in the shared shower, accidentally "pops a boner," much to his compatriot's shrieking revulsion (the communal changing room: the eternal arena of heterosexual panic), giving these bullies the "credible" ammunition they need to make French's training hell. According to the tenements of "Catch DADT," any official complaint about prejudicial behaviour is grounds for legitimate discharge.

The Inspection review

French's fellow recruits are bullies because bullying is what the army inevitably engenders. Screaming at imaginary assailants, firing at paper shadows during target practice, constantly alert to threat: the recruits are re-socialised, with mind and body attuned to perceive enemies around every corner. Much like sports, that other implicitly masculine arena, the training is seen as competition, with certain players such as the gay French and an Arabic recruit perceived as other, and their identities are duly used against them. Ability, skill, and dedication are qualities not as prized as conforming and toeing the line. It is understandable, then, that French withdraws into glossy and extended gay fantasies about his fellow recruits and cheering that he refuses to buckle. In my favourite scene, on a stealth exercise French uses camouflage paint as make up, expertly contouring his face in the manner of a winning Drag Race contestant (inexplicably, French seems to have found some silver highlighter from somewhere, too!). Defiant and fabulous: this is a film not just about the experiences of The Gays, but for them, too.

The Inspection review

If it's such a pain in the arse being a recruit, then why does French persevere? In the time honoured genre platitude, he's got "nowhere else to go." His mother (Gabrielle Union - love) is a complete cow to him, and refuses French's sexuality in the same way you or I would repudiate a predatory paedophile. In the film's opening French is homeless, living hand to mouth in shared shelters. At least the army provides food and board, and, moving up Maslow's triangle, could it possibly offer a sense of belonging, too? The film ends in a title card which reinforces this talented filmmaker's own military service, presenting a validity to the narrative of broken homes and punishing ordeals. Depending on how far French's represented experiences mirror Bratton's own, the dedication to the director's mother is either a sweet touch or a towering "Fuck you!"

The Inspection is on Netflix UK/ROI now.

2023 movie reviews