Moonlight meets the first act of Full Metal Jacket in this powerful autobiographical drama. But although Ellis' identity as a young gay man is central to the story, this isn't really a coming out story (he came out years earlier, which led to Inez disowning him). Rather, it's a highly individual story about a young man who must face homophobia in the military. Pope gives a quiet, intense performance as the vulnerable Ellis, who seems even younger than the 25 he's portraying. The entire cast is terrific, with Union utterly mesmerizing as a frosty mother who can't accept the fact that she raised a gay son. Woodbine -- who continues to look and sound like Dave Chappelle's doppelgänger -- channels R. Lee Emery's energy as the loud, intimidating drill instructor who'd like nothing more than to scare Ellis into quitting (or failing) basic training. Castillo stands out as well for the opposite reason; his Rosales shows more empathetic concern than cruelty, and his attention and encouragement make a huge impact on Ellis (and viewers).
Bratton isn't heavy handed or overly preachy with his characters -- even the ones who say and do hurtful and harmful things are humanized. The director doesn't vilify the entire military for the homophobia he faced, and he certainly doesn't cover up the fact that his younger self was flawed, troubled, and desperate for unconditional love -- or, at the very least, friendship and acceptance. There's a real sense that Ellis -- and, presumably, Bratton -- internalizes the importance of belonging to a group that can provide shelter and community, whether that's the military or a found family. And his infatuation with Rosales is handled nicely, with the latter embodying a hopefulness that Ellis needs to keep going. The Inspection isn't always an easy movie to watch; the anger and homophobia that Ellis face are nearly insurmountable. But the hardest bits aren't the scenes of physical abuse -- no, they're the heartbreaking moments between Ellis and Inez. Every conversation is fraught, and many viewers will want to scream at her to just love and embrace her son. But instead it's Ellis who loves unconditionally, ready and willing to accept his mother's affection whenever and however she's ready to give it.