Director: Kathryn Bigalow
Starring: John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Jacob Latimore, Jason Mitchell, Hannah Murray, Jack Reynor, Anthony Mackie, Kaitlyn Dever, Ben O’Toole
Written by: Mark Boal
Running Time: 143 mins
Release date: 25th August 2017
It’s amazing how cinema can sometimes pick up on a mood of what is happening in the world today. The recent racial tensions in America and especially what happened in Charlotteville has shocked the world. So it may seem almost purposefully that Detroit should be released now. Yet even though the film is based around the 1967 riots in Michigan, those same feelings and emotions are running deep in America today, making this film even more important and powerful.
The tensions between the black community in Detroit is at an all-time low. Random arrests and outbursts of violence have triggered riots throughout the city, leading to a curfew. During one such night, with the National Guard patrolling the city, a gun is fired at the Algiers Motel, causing a night of terrifying events to unravel, as policeman Krauss and his partners, investigate the shooting, putting nine black men and two white women, potential suspects, through a night of hell.
Academy Award winner Kathryn Bigalow is a director who isn’t afraid of controversy. With The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty under her belt, this powerful and shocking film captures a time of uncertainty in America, with the Vietnam war in mid-flow and the racial tensions bubbling, it seems that the film could have been set in the States right now, the way the emotions are running.
While there could be a political message in the film about what is occurring today, Bigalow also has made a film about events that seem almost forgotten now. I certainly didn’t know about the riots in Detroit during the 60’s and they were important to how America stands, even today. When the film starts, we get an extending summary of what happened and your immediate reaction is that this is going to be a very broad canvas, as it weaves through introducing us to various key figures. It’s not until midway through the film that Bigalow starts to concentrate on the events at the Algiers Motel and the film, instead of being about the riots as a whole, centres on that one, disturbing and horrific night.
It would have been easy for Bigalow to exploit the events but instead, with a terrific script by Mark Boal, they haven’t just given us a series of total strangers. Instead, they have slowly introduced each key player, from the would-be singing sensation to the security guard, even down to the bigoted cop. This isn’t a two-hour interrogation sequence, this allows the audience to become fully emotionally involved and so every gunshot, every beating, every scream and shout, sends shivers through your spine. By the end of the film, you are shaking, weeping and riddled with remorse. Even days after seeing it, I am still emoting over it.
The performances are outstanding. John Boyega as the quietly spoken security guard caught up in this nightmare, proves he is more than just another Star Wars actor, showing us the pain he feels as he stands powerless, watching the events unfold. Algee Smith is particularly a stand-out as a singer who dreams of making it big but soon finds his dreams are crushed because of that one night. The real star, however, is Will Poulter as Krauss, the racist cop who is in charge of the investigation. This is a terrifying performance, one that is mixed with confusion, enormous power and real hatred. You will despise and detest him and it is a credit to Poulter for pulling it off without making him a pantomime villain. It’s a far cry from his days playing Lee Carter in Son of Rambow.
In a time of expensive blockbusters and special effects movies, Detroit almost comes at you like a breath of fresh air and yet it is not an easy film to like. It sits among those films that you have to see but you may never want to see again. It doesn’t hold back on its punches and it doesn’t allow you to forget. Shocking, brutal yet extraordinary at the same time. It also proves that Kathryn Bigalow is one of the best directors working in Hollywood at the moment. You must see this film. Brilliant.