Director Kathryn Bigelow is no stranger to creating intense experiences with her work in cinema. For her new film Detroit, The Hurt Locker director throws the audience into the terrifying chaos of the 1967 Detroit Riots with a city set ablaze over racial tensions that boiled over into the streets. Scenes of tanks and the military patrolling neighborhoods attempting to restore order are frightening visuals you would expect to see in a third world country and not on American soil. Detroit follows many different views of the riots including the guests at the Algiers Hotel (Anthony Mackie, Algee Smith and Hannah Murray) to an African-American Security Guard named Dismukes (John Boyega) who witnesses the abusive cops in action that stormed the hotel. Bigelow uses this tragedy as a reflection for today’s current social climate concerning the “Black Lives Matter” movement.
Bigelow’s decision to cover the entire riots and the proceeding fallout is a tough task and a lot to take in for the viewers of Detroit. Bigelow tries to shove so much content into the film that the overall product suffers from so many storylines and none of them getting the proper justice it deserves. This makes Detroit entirely too long with a running time of 2 hours and 23 minutes and it doesn’t help that the scenes in the Algiers Hotel are brutal and tough to watch. Bigelow wants to make you feel uncomfortable and she succeeds in a powerful way. What happened in that room needs to be addressed, but that doesn’t mean it’s an enjoyable watch for viewers as innocent people are subjected to the horrors of authority figures using their power with deadly force. Bigelow wants to make you feel the brutality of the situation and puts the police violence on repeat cycle during the entire 2nd act.
The amount of people Bigelow also chooses to follow creates some issues with none of the characters receiving any real depth to them other than they are mad, scared or angry. John Boyega’s honest security guard could have been a fascinating person to follow considering what happens to his character during the course of the film, but his role is diminished in the 3rd act just when it seemed his situation would have been the most complex and interesting. Oscar winner and frequent Bigelow collaborator Mark Boal delivers a screenplay that surprisingly lacks character depth and engaging dialogue. Some of the cops hate filled generic lines are borderline dumb and that’s not the only case of sub par dialogue in Detroit. None of the characters are fleshed out including the strange casting of Will Poulter as the lead cop Krauss. This is a figure in the film who is meant to stir emotions, but the character is so one-dimensional. With a film that takes an expansive look at the riots, you need a polished narrative to back up the dark content and that is not the case in Detroit.
Detroit is by no means a bad film and much of the film is quite well done creating a horrifying environment where the people who are meant to help are there to hurt. We will truly never know exactly what went down at the Algiers Hotel in 1967 and the movie even provides a disclaimer that states some of the material was fictionalized. Katherine Bigelow without a doubt shows you what she believes happened on that terrible night in Detroit, but her ferocious approach to shame the police over the deadly incident may have hurt the overall potential of the film. All this rage leads to a conclusion with no light at the end of the tunnel, which doesn’t make for the most enjoyable watch. Still Detroit is a story that must be examined for better or worse to help understand the problems society is still dealing with today.
Overall, I give Detroit 2.75 out of 4 stars.
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