In strong boot-camp drama ‘The Inspection,’ a gay man finds purpose in the Marines

Jeremy Pope gives a searing performance as the young man lacking direction, with Gabrielle Union a powerful force as the mother who initially disowns him.

SHARE In strong boot-camp drama ‘The Inspection,’ a gay man finds purpose in the Marines
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Ellis (Jeremy Pope) tries to win the approval of his mother (Gabrielle Union) in “The Inspection.”

A24

It’s impossible not to think of military training camp staples such as “Full Metal Jacket” and “An Officer and a Gentlemen” when experiencing writer-director Elegance Bratton’s semi-autobiographical “The Inspection.” While Bratton’s film isn’t in the same league as those classics, it’s a strong and memorable if predictable boot-camp journey that features many of the same elements of the first half of “Jacket” and the entirety of “Gentleman” — most notably in that all three films feature an alpha male drill instructor who will either defeat his recruits and send them home, or turn them into lean mean fighting machines.

What makes “Inspection” unique is that its troubled but determined recruit is a 25-year-old gay man who by his own admission has wandered without direction through life for the last many years and has joined the Marines during the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” era in 2005 as a last-ditch effort to make something of himself and find a purpose in this world.

Jeremy Pope gives a searing performance as Ellis, who visits his estranged mother, Inez (Gabrielle Union), in her apartment so he can get his birth certificate and enlist. Inez works for the Department of Corrections, and it’s a toss-up as to which part of her life she finds more wearying, her job or coming home to her small and closed-off life. She has essentially disowned her son because she finds his “choice” to be gay utterly repugnant, and our hearts break when we see how desperate Ellis is to win his mother’s approval, even though he knows deep down it’s never coming.

‘The Inspection’

Untitled

A24 presents a film written and directed by Elegance Bratton. Rated R (for language throughout, sexual content, some nudity and violence). Running time: 95 minutes. Now showing at AMC River East and Landmark Century Center.

Once Ellis is at boot camp, we begin to tick off the familiar scenes, from the recruits getting their locks shaved to the hard-nosed and borderline cruel and almost ironically named Sgt. Laws (a superb Bokeem Woodbine) insulting and bullying the new group while putting them through grueling paces. A number of key supporting players are introduced, including the de facto squad leader, Harvey (McCaul Lombardi), who is sickened by Ellis and has Laws’ tacit approval to force Ellis to quit by virtually any means necessary; a sympathetic drill sergeant named Rosales (Raul Castillo), who becomes Ellis’ ally, and a Muslim recruit named Ismael (Eman Esfandi), who has joined the Marines just four years after 9/11 and is facing as much discrimination as Ellis.

To the surprise of just about everyone, including himself, Ellis becomes arguably the standout recruit of the class, as if his mother’s rejection and the concerted effort by Laws and Harvey et al. to get him to quit have created within him a burning desire to excel. Writer-director Bratton does a fine job of capturing the intense and at times cruel and brutal world inside that training facility and of taking us inside Ellis’ mind, including some fantasy sequences reminding us that while Ellis is indeed going through a metamorphosis, he knows who he is and he is not going to change.

“The Inspection” ends on a triumphant yet bittersweet note: the unforgettably powerful reunion between Ellis and his mother, with Jeremy Pope delivering the goods on a movie-star level, and Gabrielle Union turning in what might be the finest work of her entire career.

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