Back in 1967, citizens of Detroit, Michigan participated in one of the United States’ largest race riots. The story centers around nine occupants of the Algiers Motel who were being questioned by the cops about a shooting which occurred at the hotel. The events led to the deaths of three men and the brutal beatings of several men and women. Fifty years after the event, questions still remain about what really happened on that late July night. Kathryn Bigelow attempts to answer those questions in this documentary style drama with an all-star cast of Will Poulter, Anthony Mackie, Jacob Latimore, and John Boyega. Bigelow is not a newcomer to true stories being brought to the big screen. She previously directed Zero Dark Thirty and the Oscar winner, The Hurt Locker.
Detroit can be viewed in three parts. The first part of the film sets up the Detroit riots. Bigelow perfectly captures the frustration of the Motor City’s citizens regarding the treatment of the city by its local police force. Throughout the first 30 minutes, Bigelow mixes her own take on the film with real footage of riots. She creates a realistic atmosphere that eventually leads into the events that transpired at the motel and the interrogation of the men and women involved. Throughout these scenes, Bigelow creates heart-wrenchingly intense moments that draw you in and feel very realistic. The way the film is presented, it makes the audience members feel as if they are right beside the men and women involved. Each scene does a fantastic job building and setting up to the next climactic moment. As each scene unfolds, the intensity level rises and my interest increases. The second event in the film was very emotionally draining which had me angry with the legal battles and the complete lack of justice that occurred during this case. By the third act of the film, I really felt connected to the characters and wanted justice for them. I found myself so invested in the film and that is because Bigelow is not afraid to show the raw acts of the police force and the events of that horrific night.
The acting in Detroit is outstanding. I personally haven’t put much thought in Will Poulter as an actor before seeing him in Detroit. He previously provided mediocre performances in We’re the Millers and The Maze Runner but he completely turns that around in this film for a career-best performance. Poulter plays a racist cop determined to solve the shooting by whatever means necessary. He’s a character you learn to truly despise which is all due to his powerful performance. The supporting cast provides some impactful moments as well. Jacob Latimore, Jason Mitchell, and Anthony Mackie all have limited screen time but they each make a lasting impression with their characters and views towards the brutal attacks. Throughout the trailers, I had thought John Boyega would have much more of a stand out role in the film which I found kind of disappointing. With such a huge role in the latest Star Wars film, I was surprised to see that his character was rather trimmed when it came to dialog and scene-stealing moments. He lacked integral scenes to make him an outstanding character.
Detroit is a lengthy film with a run time of 2 hours and 23 minutes. While I did find most of the film to be powerful and emotional, there were points that felt unnecessary and dragged on. With such a long run time, there were large chunks of the movie that seemed to be drawn out to make certain scenes feel more impactful. In the beginning of the film, many scenes could have been trimmed down to transition into the second act a little more quickly or smoothly. Detroit did a great job of setting up the riots and tension the citizens were feeling but overused some of the found footage which felt a bit repetitive. Towards the end of the third act there were multiple scenes that would have been a satisfying ending but they seemed to really draw it out until the last possible second.
Detroit was a beautifully crafted film that understood the heart-wrenching moments the city went through that night. Bigelow shows proper respect to the men and women involved by telling their story in an honest way. Though the run time was a tad long and a few scenes felt unnecessary and repetitive, Detroit is a stunning film that came out at the perfect time for the world to view.
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Detroit runs 2 hours 23 minutes, and is rated R for strong violence and pervasive language.