The BRWC Review: Detroit

Following on from the similar docu-drama aesthetic of The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, director Kathryn Bigelow reconstructs the events that led to the murder of three black men by police officers during the Detroit riots of 1967.

Developed using testimonies and witness accounts, screenwriter Mark Boal reconstructs the terrifying and fateful encounter in a hyper-real manner that draws focus not only on the hardship black Americans suffered against a predominantly white police force, but also underlining an environment where the living standards and financial disparity carve a trench in the racial divide.

Bigelow and Boal, along with cinematographer Barry Ackroyd and editor William Goldenberg recreate a horrific intensity akin to the bombast of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk but transposed to the claustrophobic confines of The Algiers Motel. The gut-wrenching barbarism of the violence inflicted, the egregious abuse of power by the police officers involved and the sense of fear for the victims is almost overwhelming. You are immersed in the brutality and it is a profound and sickening thing.

Each of the cast has complete ownership within their role and to see such dynamism within a fraught and impactful story helps command verisimilitude. The disparity between John Boyega’s morally aligned night watchman and the fascistic cops portrayed by Will Poulter, Ben O’Toole and Jack Reynor, compounds the powerlessness of the victims once torture and interrogation are inflicted upon them.

Algee Smith and Jacob Latimore provide a tangible link between the atrocities and the beating heart of Detroit, Michigan circa 1967, Motown. From our introduction to The Dramatics backstage at a music hall we see a young band of Motown performers full of a thirst for fame and glory. The duo who attend The Algiers, escaping the chaos of the riots are the closest the audience has to lead performers in this story and by the conclusion we see a shift in mind-set and life’s focus that provides the only true closure to the onscreen events.

Sadly, the court case and conclusion that follows on from the pressure and horror of the murders at the motel are not constructed with the same level of scrutiny or pacing. Not only is the outcome of the film a let-down but it also meanders in a way we’ve grown unaccustomed to in the tightly knit first two acts that have preceded it. This is a gripping drama that loses focus in the final reel and doesn’t offer a satisfying conclusion, but perhaps that’s the point. As a work of cinema, it horrifies, infuriates and informs. There is no full stop at the end of Bigelow’s film and perhaps that’s a not-so subtle message, that, this ugly chapter in American history has yet to reach an end.

Detroit opens this Friday.

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Regular type person by day, film vigilante by night. Spent years as a 35mm projectionist (he got taller) and now he gets to watch and wax lyrical about all manner of motion pictures. Daryl has got a soft spot for naff Horror and he’d consider Anime to be his kryptonite.



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