Released on the 50th Anniversary of the event, Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit is a powerful and upsetting American period crime drama that puts into light the horrors of the 1967 Detroit riots that occurred as well as having an important contemporary relevance to it.
July 23rd, 1967 and we open on a police raid on an unlicensed club, an angry mob begin to form, throwing rocks at the police, looting stores and starting fires creating the start of the 12th Street Riot. With growing riots unable to be controlled the National Guard and paratroopers are sent in. Meanwhile, The Dramatics are set to perform at a music hall, however this is halted due to the rioting, crushing the dreams of the band and especially their lead singer Larry Reed (Algee Smith). After their bus is attacked, Larry and his friend Fred end up at the Algiers Motel, renting a room for the night. They meet two girls Julie Ann and Karen who introduce them to their friends Carl Cooper and Aubrey Pollard. Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega) is a private security guard protecting a grocery store where he meets some guardsmen, Carl decides to fire several blanks in the direction of the troops who think it is a sniper, they fire back and eventually go to the motel. Dismukes, the troops and a detachment of police led by Krauss (Will Poulter) arrive at the motel, rounding up everybody in the motel and lining them up against the wall where Krauss continuously asks with aggression and brutality, where is the weapon?
We’ve seen in The Hurt Locker that Bigelow is an incredible director, who can bring a huge amount of tension to the screen that not many others can do, we are given a grand picture of the start of the riots and the effects it has from the beginning of the film, slowly we are drawn from multiple stories down to this one event at the Algiers motel, a significant and dark moment in the riots and America that now, 50 years later is revised onto the big screen.
This film is garnered with incredible performances, highlighting Poulter who plays a racist, horrible and sickening officer, brutally humiliating, toying and beating the men and women, creating a horror for the characters and the situation they are in, forcing them to pray, forcing them to look at dead bodies and forcing them to deny the truth. Algee Smith excellently captures the loss he goes through and the traumatism he encounters at the hands of the three police. Boyega is brilliant as he is caught up in a situation he has no control over, due to the calamitous event neither the police nor the suspects have confidence him, seeming like a lost man we question what he can do and what he will do.
Vigorously edited and shot handheld documentary style, we get a full idea of the race-hate setting, and strain the suspects and officers are feeling, we are put right in the middle of beatings and we know everything that is going on. Bigelow makes the film feel like a time bomb that is about to go off, ticking and waiting for the police or the suspects to do something.
As the film breathes in the 3rd act we are somewhat able to relax and take in the aftermath in a courtroom drama that is sure to shock you and send chills down your spine. In current times where police brutality is constant and spoken about on social media this movie speaks volume to it, 50 years on and we could question has anything changed? Although unsure if this is what Bigelow was aiming for, the film regardless has existing themes that matter today.
Detroit features great performances, script, editing and direction that creates a terrifying dramatic film which hops from starting out as a documentary to a horror to a courtroom drama concluding into a gripping and effective film that could well possibly be in for award season.