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.
Dropping us straight into the powderkeg environment of Detroit, 1967, as the city is about to be enveloped in a series of race related riots, feels much like ‘Dunkirk’ by way of ‘Do The Right Thing’, but ‘Detroit’ is its own beast and I thought it was a powerful, often suffocating piece of filmmaking. The film’s primary focus is on the murder of three black men in the Algiers Motel, but director Kathryn Bigelow does not hurry to get there as she chooses instead to establish the setting, time period and circumstances that led to an event such as these murders taking place. This is a wise choice and it allows ‘Detroit’ to encompass a wider scope and farther reaching themes.
Bigelow has assembled an ensemble cast, many of whom feature in only a handful of scenes, with John Boyega of ‘Star Wars’ fame and Will Poulter the de facto leads, playing a private security guard and a racist police officer respectively. Will Poulter in particular is a revelation; genuinely frightening and intimidating as a cop aware he’s let a situation spiral out of control, yet one unwilling to back down. The direction is superb at building tension in every interaction, largely through the superb camerawork and without coming across as preachy, it does a great job of outlining why many black people struggle to trust police officers even to this day. If it struggles at any point, it’s the fine line it toes between accurately depicting real life events and exploiting them, with it veering dangerously close to the latter on occasion, but for the most part Bigelow does justice to the people involved.
‘Detroit’ is a thrilling, uncompromising re-enactment of a tragic historical event that successfully brings multiple stories and characters together to tell a larger story about the violence and legacy of events like these riots, and more importantly, the response from the authorities, and I thought it was a very good piece of filmmaking.
Directed By: Kathryn Bigelow
Starring: John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Jacob Latimore, Jason Mitchell, Hannah Murray, Kaitlyn Dever, Jack Reynor, Ben O’Toole, John Krasinski, Anthony Mackie, Joseph David-Jones, Ephraim Sykes, Leon Thomas III, Nathan Davis Jr., Peyton Alex Smith, Malcolm David Kelley, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Chris Chalk, Jeremy Strong, Laz Alonso, Austin Hébert, Miguel Pimentel, Kristopher Davis, Samira Wiley, Tyler James Williams and Glenn Fitzgerald