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Detroit – Movie Review

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Detroit – Movie Review

Rating: A- (Great)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy eOne Films

Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal have crafted a director-screenwriter rapport that has resulted in films with an almost journalistic style. Boal’s magazine and newspaper writing background plays a role in this, but Bigelow’s shift from high-concept action filmmaking to these true story films has been impressive to watch. Detroit may be their strongest film together with its unflinching portrait of an incident during the 1967 Detroit riots. The majority of the film is set in the Algiers Motel with the first and third acts providing the context and aftermath. What we witness is horrifying and unfortunately still a reality today. Bigelow forces us to watch these events and witness the uneasy racial tension that exists in the United States.

The Algiers Motel portion of the film has Bigelow telling a lot in one small location. In the hour we spend there, the audience sees how every character tries to get through the night. Our sympathies definitely lie with the young black men and the two white women who find themselves tortured and beaten. There is no attempt to sugarcoat the horrible actions committed by the policemen. The police brutality featured is shocking and only comes about, because of the prejudiced ideas held by them. Will Poulter has the task of playing the brutal leader of the racist cops and his performance borders on frightening. He displays no guilt for his actions and Poulter digs into the role, though one imagines he didn’t enjoy playing this person.

John Boyega also stands out as the security guard who finds himself in between helping those stuck in this horrible situation and the police he thinks are taking care of things. One can see the wheels turning in his head as he tries to reason to himself whether he’s doing the right thing. The Algiers Motel sequences tap into one’s fears, but Bigelow is not manipulating the audience. She is showing the events, based on what the testimonies and historical documents indicate happened. That’s the only way one can depict this example of police overstepping bounds and she manages to develop each person’s story properly.

Detroit provides the necessary context before the Algiers Motel incident, though the decision to begin the film with an animated prologue giving historical reasons for the racial tensions in America is an unusual one. Bigelow and Boal successfully jump between the participants to get an idea of their backgrounds and the progression of the riots. The third act is the weakest portion of the film, but no less pivotal. The interrogation and courtroom scenes serve as the aftermath and the film more than explores how this event affected everyone involved. Algee Smith’s aspiring Motown singer gets the strongest attention and how the event changed his perception of race in America. Just when it seems the film might be running long, Bigelow chooses the proper moment to end the story.

Racial tensions have always been high in the United States and Detroit carefully showcases why this divide exists. While Bigelow makes an attempt to show the National Guard and policemen who were able to see past race to help their fellow man, the attention given to the racist cops gives a good idea of the fear African Americans face every day. With the rise of movements like Black Lives Matter, one only needs to look at recent news reports to understand why. Detroit puts how at risk black people feel front and center. This is not an event that could be trivialized and Bigelow treats it with the needed sensitivity, while trying to be as historically accurate as possible. It’s a difficult subject matter that could only be portrayed in this manner on screen.


Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison