- Photo Courtesy Of Annapurna Pictures
What's it rated? R
What's it worth? Full Price
Where's it showing? Downtown Centre, Stadium 10, Park, Galaxy
Detroit is director Kathryn Bigelow (Point Break, The Hurt Locker,
Zero Dark Thirty) and writer/producer Mark Boal's (The Hurt Locker) take on the real events that took place in the Algiers Motel during 1967, resulting in the deaths of three black men after a period of interrogation and torture at the hands of white law enforcement officers.
The motel incident takes place during the eruption of tensions over police brutality and racism in the city of Detroit (the film's namesake) at the end of July 1967 that resulted in five days of violence, 43 deaths, and thousands of arrests.
The beginning of this film is disjointed—a series of quick takes focused on characters whose only connection is the rebellion/riot on which the film is based. A little girl peeking through the blinds who is shot by a national guardsman from his seat at a tank gun turret. Men throwing Molotov cocktails at a gas station and repair shop. Buildings on fire. Black men being beaten, chased, and intimidated by white police officers. A suspected looter who gets shot in the back as he runs from a white police officer. It is intense, and anger inducing, but all it really shows is violence.
The assumption the film makes is that the audience is privy to why things happened—that filmgoers know enough about the history of racial tensions in Detroit, that we know enough about segregation, police brutality, and the civil rights issues in 1960s Detroit to be plopped into the middle of an uprising that starts with police raiding what is essentially a party being hosted at an "illegal" bar. I think this film needs more context than that. If Bigelow and Boal had bothered to spend more time on developing that context and less time on the events at the Algiers, perhaps this film could have more of an impact than it already does.
As Bigelow zeroes in on the Algiers incident where the film spends almost an hour of its runtime, characters start to take shape. Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega) is a black security guard who inserts himself into aiding law enforcement and passively does what he can to try to help the black targets of their aggression. Philip Krauss (William Poulter) is an overtly racist white Detroit police officer who is basically the ringleader behind the atrocities that take place at the Algiers. Larry Demps (Algee Smith) is the lead singer of The Dramatics who gets caught up in the commotion at the Algiers, which essentially alters his life's course.
The scenes at the motel are brutally depicted. Law enforcement raids the hotel because of what they suspected to be sniper fire coming from one of the rooms. They pull everyone out of their rooms, line them up against a wall after shooting one black man in the back, and proceed to intimidate, beat, torture, and kill them with Poulter spearheading it all. It made me sick to my stomach.
We watch as the state police and national guardsman choose to essentially not get involved, as Dismukes watches as a quiet background character but chooses not to do much of anything, and as Demps and his best friend suffer through the horror of it all.
The film wraps up with a trial where black victims are re-victimized by a white defense lawyer and an all-white jury lets three obviously guilty white police officers and the ever present, but quiet Dismukes, go free. It's infuriating. But I wanted more from Dismukes. I want his backstory. I want to understand more about why he chose to act the way he did. His decisions should not have taken a back seat to those of Poulters.
I left the film with anger and dismay at how things haven't changed, and although the film is powerful and compelling in its portrayal of violence and a brutal police force, this film falls short on the big picture, thoughtful storytelling, and well-developed characters. (142 min.)