Detroit (2017)

  • Time: 143 min
  • Genre: Crime | Drama | History
  • Director: Kathryn Bigelow
  • Cast: John Boyega, John Krasinski, Kaitlyn Dever, Anthony Mackie, Algee Smith, Will Poulter

Storyline:

A police raid in Detroit in 1967 results in one of the largest RACE riots in United States history. The story is centred around the Algiers Motel incident, which occurred in Detroit, Michigan on July 25, 1967, during the racially charged 12th Street Riot. It involves the death of three black men and the brutal beatings of nine other people: seven black men and two white women.

4 reviews

  • (RATING: ☆☆☆☆½ out of 5 )

    GRADE: A-

    THIS FILM IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

    IN BRIEF: Kathryn Bigalow creates a searing docudrama about racial unrest in America.

    SYNOPSIS: The Detroit riots of 1967 serve as the backdrop for a vicious attack on some party-goers by some police officers.

    RUNNING TIME: 2 hrs., 23 mins.

    JIM’S REVIEW: We see it on the news…police officers being secretly photographed using excessive force to arrest a possible lawbreaker, or the opposite viewpoint, an average citizen choosing a violent act of aggression against the police force. It’s seems to be an everyday occurrence in our 21st century. Hate speech and violent actions are rampant these days, and with that comes the issue of poverty, crime, and racism underscoring the rationale. 50 years ago, that same savage behavior happened sporadically, or at least, not to our knowledge in this age of social media. Intense, manipulative, and uncompromising in its vision of racial unrest in America, Kathryn Bigelow’s film, Detroit, is a harrowing look into our nation’s class divide.

    Just as Ava’s DuVernay’s epic 2015 film, Selma, looked to the past to show our present, so does this equally fine film. Yes, there will be a backlash against the film’s liberal bias, or its ugly view of police brutality, or the fact that a white female director has chosen to tell this tale. But those are smoke and mirrors deflecting the real message of the film. Its social conscience prevails, even if its story is told in black and white (or black vs. white), with little gray to be seen. Both films show that black lives rarely mattered during the turbulent sixties and not much has changed with law enforcement or the court system from then to now. And that is the most telling fact, sadly proving that history continues to repeat itself.

    A city is a microcosm of its inhabitants. Using the Detroit riots of 1967 as its backdrop, this docudrama incorporates real life characters and events to convey its human drama. As the film begins, it’s summer in the city. Temperatures are hot with no relief in sight. The police raid an unlicensed bar and its patrons are being ridiculed and threatened. A rowdy crowd gathers to watch the proceedings and a mob scene erupts in violence. The riots begin and grow over three nights. National guard troops are called in to “calm” the protesters.

    In Mark Boab’s exceptional screenplay, we focus on a human drama that tragically plays out during one of those nights: In a small hotel room, some friends gather to party and forget about the turmoil that surrounds them. Stereotypes abound. The angry young Negro. The bigoted cop. The righteous African-American police officer being falsely accused (John Botega, being the heart and soul of the film). All are thrown into this melting pot called America and the hatred and prejudice boils over in the most unsettling of ways. A starter pistol goes off, bringing the police to the premises. Lead by a sadistic officer named Krauss (a menacing Will Poulter), the stage is now set for repeated acts of inhumanity and sadism.

    This hostage situation sequence, which becomes the riveting section of the film, includes scenes of psychological torture and brutal violence which go on for too long, making the film squirm-inducing and quite disturbing to watch. This confrontational scene is in-your-face cinema verite that engulfs the moviegoer to witness acts of cruelty that go unpunished. This is serious filmmaking about an all-too-serious subject, and the director never shies away from the events, although she does take some creative leeway with the facts to dramatize her narrative.

    Ms. Bigalow’s direction is brilliant. She layers her narrative with such clarity and insight, establishing the incident and creating many memorable characters that are caught in the crossfire. She mixes newsreel footage with her reenactments of the crimes in such a subtle and forceful way. Production design by Jeremy Hindle, Barry Ackroyd’s photography, and the editing by William Goldenberg and Harry Yoon captures these grim times vividly. The filmmakers create a realistic war zone and fill it with images that depict the conflict between races.
    The film has one of the best ensembles of the year. Algee Green, Jacob Latimore, Jason Mitchell, and Anthony Mackie are terrific. Also providing excellent support are Hannah Murray, Jack Reynor, Ben O’Toole, and Kaitlyn Dever. The aforementioned Mr. Botega and Mr. Poulter are outstanding in their roles and should be garner many well-earned accolades this award season.

    Detroit parallels a nation at war with itself, and though the message is often preachy and overstates its position too often, the overall impact is thought-provoking if disheartening. Ms. Bigalow’s tale of law and disorder will upset and stun you, but it just might open up a needed discussion about the taboo subject of racism in America that is still infecting our country today…50 years later.

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  • This film propels Kathryn Bigelow to the forefront of American directors. It is a powerful, superbly constructed, insightful and circumspect demonstration of today’s most tragic truth — what we hoped was Obama’s post-racist America turned out to be neo-racist America.
    Though it centers on the 1967 Detroit riot and police abuse of African-Americans, seeing it after Charlottesville makes the film sadly prophetic.
    As Christopher Nolan did in Dunkirk, Bigelow thrusts us into the action pell-mell, shooting everything in frenzy and close-up, not pausing to explain or reframe. Again we feel the impossible confusion and suffocation of war. What the dialogue tells us is less important than our visceral experience of the victims under siege and the police scared into brutishness.
    The film frames that tumultuous action with calm stills. The prologue is artistic renderings of the history — paintings of the southern blacks’ movement north for civil rights and jobs and the whites’ consequent evacuation of the cities for the ostensibly purer suburbs. If they escaped Jim Crow the blacks couldn’t escape the prejudiced legal and social systems.
    The epilogue states the fates of the various characters. The whites escaped conviction. That’s what white privilege is all about — they win the loopholes. The blacks found what compromises their conviction allowed, like the brilliant singer who skips out on his group’s Motown success to sing in a neighbourhood church choir. The civil courts give token acknowledgment of the guilt and justice the white legal system denied.
    None of those consequences erase or forgive the arrogant and sadistic bigotry of the white crop Krauss. He is just a boy, trigger happy, but with centuries of racism in his veins and culture — and the confidence the colour gap bequeathes him. In an early conversation in the police car he seems to understand and sympathize with the blacks’ predicament — but then he gets the chance to shoot one. The die is cast.
    To Krauss the torture of his prisoners is a game. Sadistic and brutal but a game, the way a toy gun in the minds of the frightened National Guard and police swells into a mortally dangerous sniper, to be caught and punished at all costs — especially to the innocent blacks. One cop hasn’t learned the “game,” though, so he kills instead of just pretending to. That’s what happens when a game is played on people to whom it is far from a game.
    So far this is the best American film of the year — and by far the most important. I would say that even if Charlottesville had not happened last weekend and President Trump had not been exposed as the personification of American racism, hypocrisy and ignorance. All that only validates Bigelow’s vision.
    But all the Oscars of the eve won’t amend America’s racist history and its continuing choke-hold on the nation. That will take a wide and profound social reform of which America has yet to prove itself capable — or even willing.

  • Perhaps one of the most unnerving things about Detroit, Kathryn Bigelow’s docudrama about the 1967 Detroit riots and, specifically, the Algiers Motel incident, is its timeliness. With police brutality cases such as Philando Castle’s, the Ferguson protests and riots, and the even more recent events in Charlottesville still still fresh in one’s memory, this is a film that reminds audiences, with blunt brutality, that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

    Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal, who also collaborated with the director on The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, sketch a quick historical context of the situation. In Detroit, blacks were restricted to a few overcrowded neighbourhoods which were patrolled by a mostly white police force. Though the state’s auto industry provided job opportunities for people of colour, blacks still had to contend with high risk but low-paying jobs, poor education, and racial discrimination which took the form of police brutality and random raids. As one character later notes, to be black is to instantly be a target: “When you’re black, it’s almost like having a gun pointed to your face.”

    It’s no wonder that things go from bad to considerably worse on July 23, 1967 when police raid an after-hours bar in the 12th Street office of the United Community League for Civic Action where two locals were being feted for returning from the Vietnam War. Arrests are made, crowds begin to gather, tensions are at a boiling point. Then a bottle is thrown and it all kicks off. Within 48 hours, the city has disintegrated into a war zone. Looting and destruction are rampant despite the pleas of a local black assemblyman not to “mess up your own neighbourhood.” Federal troops have been called in, so have the National Guard to help protect state and local police. “It’s hard to believe that this could happen in America,” one news report remarks. It may be hard to believe, but it’s not difficult to understand especially once the film enters its most potent and harrowing section: the depiction of the Algiers Motel incident.

    The Algiers Motel, frequented by hookers and drug dealers, also served as refuge for anyone looking to escape from the mayhem that was still erupting on the streets of Detroit. On that fateful night of July 25th, the third night of rioting, the motel’s guests included Vietnam veteran Robert Greene (Anthony Mackie), doo-wop singers Cleveland Larry Brown (Algee Smith) and Fred Temple (Jacob Latimore), teenage girls Julie Ann (Hannah Murray) and Karen (Kaitlyn Dever) from Ohio who might be prostitutes, a boy named Aubrey Pollard (Nathan Davis Jr.), and 17-year-old Carl Cooper (Jason Mitchell), whose foolish decision to fire his toy starter pistol out the window at the National Guards outside results in the already jumpy police force into overdrive. Leading the overzealous cops is Philip Krauss (Will Poulter, delivering a remarkable portrayal of power fuelled by ignorance and hatred), earlier seen shooting an unarmed looter in the back, who terrorises the guests into telling him who shot at the troops and where the gun is.

    In many respects, this middle section could have been the entire film, so powerful a portrait it is of how ugly and damn near impossible it is to fight against those in power. Even when you submit and stay silent in order to survive, as black security guard Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega) does, it’s no guarantee. They will still bully and denigrate you. One of the most searing moments of the film is when Fred is told by Krauss that he can leave if he swears to keep silent about Aubrey’s death. Fred’s refusal is not even a deliberate act of bravery, just a simple acknowledgement that a man is lying dead on the floor, and Krauss shoots him dead for not cooperating in the cover-up.

    Detroit is by no means a perfect film, nor is it necessarily an excellent one, but it is an important viewing experience in this day and age where the promise of change may be a little less of an illusion than it was 50 years ago, but still an illusion nonetheless.

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  • Detroit is my latest review. It depicts Motown’s 12th Street Riot from the summer of 1967. The movie also hones in on the Algiers Motel Incident where three denizens were beaten and killed by the city’s finest.

    So yeah, I may have been born and raised in Michigan. In spite of that, I’m just now learning of these true events in the form of two hours and twenty-three minutes. 2017’s Detroit is quite the eye opener.

    For much of the way, Detroit is a crippling film to watch. It feels like the poster child for police brutality, the poster child for racial rigidity, and the rightful epitome of near torture porn. You the viewer, never feel totally safe while taking in this vehicle (no pun intended to The Motor City).

    Director Kathryn Bigelow gives Detroit a shaky cam feel and a slight, documentary style. With Zero Dark Thirty, The Hurt Locker, and now this current release, Bigelow can aptly be called the female Paul Greengrass or maybe even the harder-edged version of Steven Soderbergh.

    Detroit in fits and starts, almost veers completely into “popcorn” territory. Bigelow uninhibited, lets the violence spill onto the screen. The barbaric images rendered, are sensationalized, nearly for show, and nearly in the form of carnival antics. So OK, they might be pertinent to Detroit’s mosaic storytelling. However, this still kept me from saddling the film with a four star rating.

    Certain flaws aside, Detroit has an overwhelming sense of time and place which is a strong point. Kathryn Bigelow works well with a huge cast (John Boyega, Anthony Mackie, Algee Smith), a vast canvas, and an unsteady lens that is always peeking in. Heck, Detroit the movie feels like real life.

    Bigelow also provides some archive footage on the side, some war zone residue, and a constant sense of danger to her proceedings. Detroit the city, is made to look like Iraq or a medium-sized village during the Battle of Guadalcanal. Talk about unsettling.

    In conclusion, would I put the paranoia-laden Detroit in my top ten via 2017? Possibly. I’ll know come January of next year. Detroit’s rating: 3 stars.

    Rating: 3 out of 4 stars

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