Detroit is a crime drama film directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by Mark Boal. It is based on the Algiers Motel incident during Detroit's 1967 12th Street Riot. The film stars John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Jacob Latimore, Jason Mitchell, Jack Reynor, Ben O'Toole, John Krasinski and Anthony Mackie.
The Story/The Direction:
This film will take you on a journey that shows what it was like to be a black man during the 1967 Detroit riots and unfortunately today as well for any person of color. This story takes place on the night of July 25, 1967 where three young black men were shot and killed at the Algiers Motel. Today, the details of this incident are still somewhat vague but director Bigalow and her screenwriter Boal depict the story of the horrifying act of police brutality. As the film progresses and the "death game" at the Algiers Motel start, you feel as you are there with these young men who have been held captive. Each passing scene you feel this anxiety that grows and grows.
Bigelow is able to tell a fantastic yet agonizing docudrama. You are kept in the moment that these men and women are going through. You feel the pain in each of them as the police brutality continues on. This is because even though it is a historical film, this story is unfortunately a reflection of current events. Bigelow opens the film with a party for returning veterans is broken up by police officers and the club's patrons are hauled off which then progresses to the riots. The National Guard is called in and as the city moves into chaos focuses on the Algiers Motel incident. Bigelow establishes the time the film is set in while also introducing you to characters that you will care about as the night progresses. As the events of the evening unfold, Bigelow shows you where each character is and their facial reaction to the things happening around them. This film is excruciating to watch due to Bigelow's direction and the tension she creates keeps you from looking away. The main part of the film happens in one hallway and just like the men in the story, you can't leave it. Bigelow has great skill and ability to tell a complex stories with a very powerful force.
The cast is a large one that are mostly based on real people. The ones that we are viewing in this horrific story are Larry (Smith), Fred (Latimore), and Melvin (Boyega). Larry is an aspiring Motown artist who is the lead singer for The Dramatics and his friend Fred are only staying the night at the motel to distance themselves from the riots. Both Smith and Latimore are great here as they give a raw innocence to the story and Smith provides some great singing throughout the film. There's one scene where the police officers demand their captives to pray and while others do this, Larry breaks out into song. You don't have to be a spiritual person to feel this powerful scene as shown through Lee's performance. Latimore has low key been doing a lot of good things. He is a decent singer/dancer and starring in films such as Black Nativity, Collateral Beauty, and Sleight. The latter is on my list for later this year. Say what you want about those films but he's a few roles away from being a star, if not marked one by this film.
Melvin is a security guard who only wants the men to survive the night. He is willing to give the police officers what they want just so they will let the people go. His character is called "Uncle Tom," a few times in the film as he is not willing to fight back against those who are obviously wrong in their methods. As the film progresses, Melvin realizes that this method will not work. This empathy is played beautifully by Boyega. He is known for the new Star Wars films but this film shows he can act. I can't wait to see him in more dramatic roles.
The real highlights though are really the police officers. It's really hard to praise people who are playing characters who you hate. I believe Poulter is probably a good guy in real life but his performance makes me want to punch him in the face so he does a great job. O'Toole as Flynn is also fantastic as the more violent one as you don't know what he's going to do. Reynor is the nice but mean one and you think he's just there to do the job but then he opens his mouth and you dislike him almost as much as the other two. All three do their jobs very well playing characters you will end up hating.
This movie is not perfect as I feel the last third of the film was rushed. You feel the power of the beginning and middle but the end seemed a little lackluster. I think it was done to show a conclusion to the story but it seemed quick in comparison to the rest of the film. I also think that having Bigelow, a white woman, directing and Boel, a white man, writing the script seemed like a missed opportunity. Not to say either of them do a bad job but with a story like this, I feel you would want to get the most accurate portrayal of a situation like this. I feel person of color could have provided that, at least more completely. The main consultant on the film was Julie Hysell, one of the women from that unfortunate night and the sentiment is similar. I'm not saying this film is a bad representation of the event especially when the real life Melvin Dismukes says it's "99.5% accurate." However, I do think that his character could have been delved into more. His character's complicit acts could have been analyzed in a more complete way. It just seemed to me that they weren't 100% sure how to deal with a character like this. I also think the title of this film could have been more accurate to the film as it isn't about the overall riots but a specific incident during the riots. They could have called it "Algiers" or something else.
What I took away from this film is not just anger but also sadness. Not because the death of these innocent people but because this story was fifty years ago. The only things that made it feel like that time was the increase in smoking indoors, the clothing, the music, and the obvious time stamps. However with each passing moment, this story could have happened yesterday. Due to the type of story this film is tackling, you can predict exactly what will happen which unfortunately is just a sad commentary on society as a whole than a real flaw. This story is equivalent to the killings of Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Pilando Castile, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland and many others that happen every day. While at this point, I wouldn't say Best Picture but I wouldn't be disappointed if it did win that. However, Best Director and/or Best Cinematography could be possibly on the horizon for this film. You will feel the power of this movie/story no matter who you are. I would say go see this in theatres as the film is made in the same way as Dunkirk. Bigelow traps you into this hallway just as Nolan did with you on the beach. It will make sure you know the extent of the violence and cruelty caused by racism.
Rating: 4.5/5.0 bowties
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