Director Kathryn Bigelow has always been a master at depicting tension and aggression. Previous efforts Zero Dark Thirty and the Hurt Locker, and even going back to Point Break, are all examples of this. Detroit magnifies the tension and aggression in a true story from the 60s that is as relevant and important as it was then. Set amidst the riots in Detroit in 1967, the film focuses on one racially-charged event at the Algiers hotel, when a group of local policemen along with a national guardsman take a group of black men and two white women hostage, resulting in a wave of brutality that is as difficult to watch as it is important to understand.
Right at the beginning the context is set when a local cop laments how the department is failing the black community, then immediately shooting an unarmed looter in the back. Will Poulter plays the officer with such an unadulterated force that I get mad just seeing the actor’s face. When patrolling at night and shots at the police are suspected to have come from the hotel, Poulter’s officer leads a team trying to uncover the truth while playing violent and unrelenting mind games with the residents they’ve collected. John Boyega plays a security guard caught in the middle, trying to deescalate the situation while trying to not have the white officers leading the charge turn on him.
The movie is expertly done, so well that I really don’t want to ever see it again. The violent oppression, the miscarriages of justice, the unrelenting viciousness all make it difficult to truly enjoy the movie on an entertaining level, but it also stuck with me long after the closing credits. In this age where racial tensions and oppressions have cycled backwards (or at least have become more publicly widespread) the film captures the pervasive racism that has become a sometimes insurmountable force in the pursuit of justice and even dignity.
An amazing cast (supporting turns by Jacob Latimore, Algee Smith, Hannah Murray, Anthony Mackie and Malcolm David Kelley are all noteworthy), a superior script, shot in a way that sets you in the scene and follows the action naturally, and edited expertly, this movie is easily one of my favorites this year.
My Grade – A