Elegance Bratton (“Pier Kids”) directs his feature-length debut in “The Inspection,” based on his experiences at Parris Island during boot camp.
The film is immediate, visceral and painfully authentic. With delicate emotive detail combined with surreal happenstance, the film creates a record of military life that is unflinching and without compromise.
Ellis French (Jeremy Pope) is a young gay black man who lives on the street. He is sick of living on the edge and gets the idea of becoming a United States Marine.
Once Ellis gets his birth certificate from his estranged mother (Gabrielle Union) he boards a bus.
The gutsy and painful odyssey begins at Parris Island, South Carolina. Ellis endures great unease, discomfort and wrenching pain. There are impossible physical positions, cold and dispiriting mud. He is beaten and punched in the shower.
During a water dive, he is pummeled, dragged under and left to drown within seconds, a hazing event. Still, Ellis carries on reasoning that if he continued with civilian life, he would be dead, given that (at least partially) his mother so harshly disapproves of Ellis’s sexual orientation.
The film is in the tradition of “Full Metal Jacket” focusing on one man plunged into a realm of militarized harshness and cruelty. But here, the episodes are less melodramatic and stylized. This film by contrast has a seamless naturalism and a vivid honesty.
The square shouldered and chisel-chinned shower scenes flooded with red and blue filters recall Pop Art and the art of Tom of Finland, but these touches never undermine or overwhelm this film’s truth or realism. In one scene when Ellis uses war paint for eye-shadow, director Bratton employs surrealism to subvert our expectations of military machismo. These conventional concepts have nothing to do with being an effective soldier.
Gabrielle Union is jolting and surprising as the young soldier’s bigoted mother who also has a love under layers of dark ignorance.
Ellis’s open and searching expression says it all even when he cloaks his face in a dead stare.
Pvt. Elegance Bratton lived to tell and became a military photographer, as well as a documentarian. Elegance the man is a survivor, a soldier of great courage and a creative force to be reckoned with, full of empathetic frenzy and charge.
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