Jeremy Pope's star has been on the rise for several years now with leading roles on TV in Ryan Murphy's Hollywood and Pose and a supporting role as Jackie Wilson in One Night In Miami. Pope's first major leading film role is The Inspection, which has flown under the radar somewhat, playing on the festival circuit and earning strong reviews for Pope, with some marking him an outside contender to feature in Awards races.
The Inspection is Elegance Bratton's first Feature length feature film, based on his own enrolment in the US Marines in the mid 2000s during the height of the War On Terror post 9/11. Here Pope is Ellis French who initially meets the required physical targets during his training but struggles to hide his sexuality and is subsequently ridiculed by his fellow marines. Bratton had previously directed several Documentary films, including 2019's Pier Kids which focused on homeless trans and queer young people in New York, again this was close to home for Bratton. The Inspection opens with Ellis being on the streets with his mother (a sublime Gabrielle Union) wanting nothing to do with him and disowning him due to his sexuality.
Ellis enlists in the marines to escape his situation at home, seemingly in an attempt to start a new life and to finally make his mother proud of him.
Pope gives a tremendous performance, subdued and withdrawn but no less impactful in spite of its lack of showy moments. We get a sense of someone struggling to figure out his place in life, constantly put down upon but still finding a sense of resilience and endurance. The film relies so heavily on his performance and he manages to make it a constantly engaging watch.
One of the film's biggest strengths and a weakness all the same is its sprightly runtime, coming in just over the 90 minute mark, moving at a fast pace and with the bulk of the action taking place at Parris Island bootcamp (South Carolina) after an opening segment in New York. The use predominantly of the one location builds a sense of anxiety and the sense of claustrophobia the recruits feel, heightened for Ellis due to his insecurities around his sexuality and the treatment of those around him.
A drawback of the runtime is that it solely focuses on Ellis' training and we don't get a sense of what happened to Bratton later on in his service, although the film is effective at capturing a moment in time when racism and homophobia still ran rife through the US military. Due to the short run time the ending feels a tad abrupt, although this is not to take away from what is the most part an effective and tight debut feature film.
While flawed The Inspection, is a fascinating debut feature that marks Elegance Bratton as a name to be reckoned with, it can make for an uncomfortable watch but it feels authentic and clearly captures something close to the Directors heart with a star making turn from Jeremy Pope at its centre, further cementing his growing reputation. It's a shame it has flown under the radar as this is an important film highlighting issues from the US militaries not too recent history.
The Inspection is in cinemas now