Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Cast: John Boyega, Anthony Mackie, Algee Smith
Synopsis: Amidst the chaos of the Detroit Rebellion, with the city under curfew and as the Michigan National Guard patrolled the streets, three young African American men were murdered at the Algiers Motel.
Genre: Crime, Drama, History
MPAA Rating: R (for strong violence and pervasive language)
Release Date: August 4, 2017
Racial relations, particularly between whites and blacks, have been at the forefront of American history for several hundred years. From the days of slavery to the Civil War to the civil rights movement in the 1960s, racial tension has been a sore spot for the American people, and even in the 21st century the tensions continue to rise on what seems like a daily basis.
In her first feature film since her acclaimed war drama Zero Dark Thirty (2012), director Kathryn Bigelow explores one of the most disturbing events that took place during the Detroit Rebellion in 1967.
The film's pacing is sluggish for the first half hour or so, where Bigelow attempts to draw viewers in to the setting of the rising tension in Detroit. The viewer is thrown around several different places with several different characters, unable to determine which character we are supposed to latch onto and follow. It is not until we meet the members of the band The Dramatics that things start kicking into gear. After their first performance is unexpectedly shut down by the police, the band takes a bus and ultimately splits up after the bus is attacked by rioters. Two members of the band, Larry Reed (Algee Smith) and Fred Temple (Jacob Latimore) decide to go to the Algiers Motel for the night until things cool off. It is at this hotel that the morally corrupt events and the best scenes of the film take place.
After one of the residents of the hotel fires a gun loaded with blanks into the area of several soldiers of the National Guard, a police force enters the motel, led by Philip Kraus (Will Poulter). Without question, the strongest scenes of the film occur in the hallway of the motel, where the officers line up the residents and interrogate them by verbally and physically assaulting them in order to determine who the shooter was. For the vast majority of the remainder of the film, the Bigelow's camera stays inside the motel, isolating and keeping viewers captive just like the victims in the film. The scenes are shot with breathtaking realism, accomplished by Bigelow implementing a shaky cam aesthetic that gives off a documentary feel instead of a traditional film aesthetic. The scenes, though supremely engaging, are hard to watch, as viewers will undoubtedly experience feelings of guilt and shame at the levels of atrocity human beings can commit against one another. These feelings are strongly felt through a surprisingly bold, ruthless, and brutal performance from the young Will Poulter, who's only had a handful of previous big screen credits. His performance as a racist, white supremacist can be compared to Michael Fassbender's in 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2013), only Poulter gets less screen time. In any case, it is not a stretch to say than a Golden Globe nomination or even an Oscar nomination is headed Poulter's way.
Though it gets off to a slow start, Detroit is a sharply directed, strongly acted crime drama that succeeds in its desire to make viewers question human morality and the dark places we have been and continue to go. Kathryn Bigelow continues her streak of being one of the most talented female directors working in the industry, bringing tough subject matter to the big screen and delivering it in an engaging, thoughtful way. It is not the director's strongest work, but it is certainly a memorable civil rights drama film that sheds much needed light on the untold dark crimes committed by whites against blacks during the 1960's.