Woop Woop…that’s the sound of the police! “Detroit” is directed by Kathryn Bigelow and stars John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith and others.
The movie takes place during the Detroit riot of 1967 and focuses on an event at the Algiers Motel that resulted in the deaths of three black men, the severe beatings of seven other black men and two white women, perpetrated by police.
It’s hard to put into words how emotional this film is. I had inner-conflict because as much as I found “Detroit” to be magnificent, I also found it to be dull. I’ll get to that in a moment. The movie gives a brief explanation of how the riots started followed by a visual experience of how the riots are impacting the neighborhoods and its inhabitants.
One scene involves Poulter’s character as a cop shooting an unarmed black looter in the back as he’s trying to escape with groceries in his hands, but that heartless moment won’t even begin to brace us for what’s about to come later on.
“Detroit” then moves into character introductions. Larry Reed, played by Smith, has a large role and it almost becomes a biopic on him rather than the motel incident. Boyega’s character is the most riveting. He plays the concerned citizen, trying to see this from both sides. He’s caught in the middle; looked upon as an Uncle Tom by some of his own while attempting to show law enforcement why black people are outraged. But at the same time, he’s offering his support to the troops. Once all the characters are established and the plot becomes clear, the 2nd act hits you immediately and unapologetically.
The 2nd act of “Detroit” is as horrifying as any scary movie you’ve ever seen, except this is real. It is a pure torture fest. The way the “suspects” are treated will rip your soul apart. Some of the actions are so vile that you won’t be able to watch the screen.
In an interview, Poulter says he was so disturbed by his character that in between takes, he hugged all of his co-stars. Bigelow is a visceral director with an eye for imagery and this hits the mark. It is a case of racists with authority over-using their power and knowing nothing can stop them… and the ones knowing it’s wrong but turning a blind eye.
Even associates of the black hostages (I refuse to call them suspects) can get it. The two white women are treated with physical and mental abuse, too, but in this instance, their lives are spared. It is a fiery time in this film, and then most of the 3rd act extinguishes that blaze. There are a few moments that deflate the audience’s hopes in the beginning of the 3rd to make you wonder what will happen, then “Detroit” goes flat.
It focuses on a specific character, not the moment. Too many unnecessary scenes find their way into the film. It almost looks like they threw B-roll footage in just to make the movie longer. The writing is another flaw.
The 1st act doesn’t tell much about why this or that happened. It begins abruptly then goes on and on. It’s very long-winded and the story is bogged down because of this. The 2nd act is the film’s saving grace, however. So powerful in fact, this alone is why you should see “Detroit”.
Trying to explain an historical event on film is a daunting task. Trying to accurately explain it is even harder. “Detroit” isn’t about the actual uprising, but a deplorable, reprehensible event that happened because of it. If you go into this movie expecting a lesson on the ’67 riot, you’ll be disappointed. I would say to read up on it, that way you’ll understand the climate of Detroit during this time.
As I looked around at the audience, I saw tears, anger and disbelief. It made you look at yourself, and any film that can make you do that and feel for another is worth it. I’m co-signing “Detroit” to the fullest with a caveat: It is long so try to be patient.
Sadly, it seems no one wants to learn from, or even discuss the past. Because of that, these very events occur today. Until EVERYONE, not just minorities, understand minorities’ unjust history with law enforcement, “Detroit” will have a sequel called “America”.
It’s currently in production…
“Detroit” opens in theaters on August 4.