John Boyega Detroit review 2Year: 2017
Director(s): Kathryn Bigelow
Writer(s): Mark Boal
Region of Origin: US

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Rating: R
Digital, Color, 143 mins

Synopsis: A chronicle of the tragic events that took place at Detroit’s Algiers Motel, July 25th, 1967.

Great art doesn’t allow us to be bystanders. We should be moved to action, engaged in some form of dialogue and marked by what we’ve experienced. Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit is a reflection of this. In one fell swoop, Bigelow confronts an infamous night in America’s dark past, attempting to shine a light on grave injustice. Under this context, the film is an incendiary experience that doesn’t pull a single punch or bullet. Never taking the easy way out, what we see on screen makes us feel sick to our stomach. We endlessly shift in our seats hoping for a chance to breathe. If you’re looking for a breezy, two hour escape, this ain’t it. Instead, this is a film that looks deep into our past to call out our present, telling a story that continues to echo today.

The film drops us right in the thick off it, starting off with a police raid which would throw racial tensions in Detroit over the edge. Amidst heavy segregation, looting, riots, fires and police brutality, we’re offered a chronicle of the events at the Algiers Motel, July 25th, 1967. Taking shelter at the black-owned hotel, guests Larry (Algee Smith) and Fred (Jacob Latimore) would meet meet two white women, Julie (Hannah Murray) and Karen (Kaitlyn Dever), attempting to escape the violence around them. There would be no respite, however, with the two best friends coming under fire from white Detroit cops drunk on power and responding to reports of sniper fire. Along with several other guests, Carl (Jason Mitchell), Aubrey (Nathan Davis Jr), Greene (Anthony Mackie) and more, the group would be put under dehumanizing torment and physical abuse. Coming to aid, yet ultimately powerless, would be local security guard Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega). Unfortunately, the night would prove fatal for several involved, leading to a damning yet inconclusive criminal trial.

Armed with a script by frequent collaborator Mark Boal, Bigelow’s penchant for grit and tension shines through. Essentially a locked-room premise constructed from numerous accounts, the plot creates a restless microcosm reflecting the raging riots surrounding the hotel. Through this single setting, Bigelow is able to distill repressed oppression, shifting power dynamics and a keen sense of self preservation at any cost. Despite the artistic license used to stitch the night together, Bigelow keeps things as grounded as possible. There aren’t any cheap thrills strewn about, just raw, primal anger and desperation. I can’t stress enough that this isn’t a film we watch, it’s one that envelops us. We are thrust into each characters’ shoes, making us complicit but also helpless. The outcome is nightmarish, with Bigelow’s film drowning us with dread, fear and eventually anger. What’s undeniable, is that the night is given an intricacy that such a complex event deserves. Nothing is ever relegated surface absolutes, but the product of flawed human beings with a failure to communicate or convey compassion.

Will Poulter Detroit reviewGiven Bigelow’s no-prisoners approach, its no surprise that the ensemble is gripping from start to finish. On one side, Algee Smith and Jacob Latimore’s Larry and Fred are our anchor and entry point. The pair represent a sense of young hope and excitement, arriving on screen with a deep bond and bright-eyed glow that gets muddied as the film goes on. Jason Mitchell, Nathan Davis, Anthony Mackie and a few others are all great in their respective roles, adding genuine humanity to everything we see. By design, savage cops Krauss, Flynn and Demens (Will Poulter, Ben O’Toole and Jack Reynor) dominate most of the film. Poulter in particular is so evil, it’s almost unbearable. We know that everything Poulter does is absolutely wrong, and the nasty conviction that drives him is as heartbreaking as it is infuriating. The entire film lives and dies with this cast, bringing the film’s realism to life in ways we can’t escape.

One could argue that Detroit is too dark and unnecessary for today, opening old wounds and exposing us to a trauma we don’t need to repeat. It’s true, the film isn’t for everyone, and certainly not for casual viewers looking for a cheap ride. Ironically, these are the reasons the film needs to exist. Films like this force us to confront the parts of ourselves that we as a society can’t afford to forget. It’s for this reason that Detroit is an incendiary weapon, a work of art that shows how disgusting racism and prejudice can be, espcically when you’re forced to endure it. If this film doesn’t make your blood boil, then you’re probably already dead.

SG