Detroit: Marti’s Take

Detroit

By Marti Dols Roca.

Detroit is undoubtedly one of the most expected releases of the year. Not only because of the prolific and talented hand of its director: Katrhyn Bigelow (Academy Award winner for The Hurt Locker) but also because, by luck or misfortune, it coincides with a very specific moment of social and racial turmoil in the western world and especially the U.S: from Trump’s election to the Black Lives Matter movement or the recent events at Charlottesville, Virginia).

Detroit is set under the frame of the city’s riots in 1967 and it focuses on The Algiers Motel Incident: when three young black men were killed during an interrogation by DPD officers claiming that there was a sniper amidst the hotel guests. After a people’s trial (on which the movie doesn’t really focus) following the initial absolution of the three policemen involved, those were taken off the streets and the force with no further consequences (aside from a ridiculous fine to one of the affected families).

The film’s opening is superb- animating a Jacob Lawrence’s painting series on the Great Migration- and it sets the tone and the mood to come. Shortly after, the event that lit the spark of the riots is broadly portrayed and the characters that will carry the story introduced. From that moment on, the story follows the Algiers Motel Incident from its very beginning to its tragic ending and it resolves with a quick and not particularly thorough sequence of the trials mentioned, to end up with captions over black screen explaining the outcome of the lives of the real people involved.



The movie succeeds in delivering a point; even though it trembles in several moments to eventually deliver the intended message. That risk is caused by the somehow sloppy ending which, never seems to arrive. But little by little the audience surely feels the rage, fear and impotence of witnessing the outrageous performance of the Detroit police force. The feeling of utter injustice and lack of belief in the judicial system travels from the screen to the spectators’ guts unavoidably.

The main problem, in the humble opinion of the writer of this article, is precisely the destination of this message: the guts. To be completely honest, it feels like the director is looking for a visceral reaction from the audience, which she gets, rather than trying to dissection the roots of the problem. That is unarguably disappointing considering what she is capable of- especially in The Hurt Locker and the emotional depth of its characters’ arcs.

The three cops guilty of the massacre are shown as bad apples and not as part of a broader system of policing. Which unfortunately enough resonates with the current situation mentioned at the beginning of this text: the bad apple explanations it’s a major risk, to put it gently, considering how many times in how many different parts of the country (or the world) the exact same thing has happened. I.e. people being killed by the infrastructure supposed to protect them for racial, class and economic circumstances that have created a climate of tension, fear and mutual distrust. Detroit is clearly a work of fiction and it should be seen as such (partly); but accepting that, let’s at least point out how misleading is the title (as it could be called Algiers and it would be way more fair to the actual events taking place in the movie) and its introduction.

The way the writer of this article sees it: it feels more like real and freaking scary Funny Games during the Detroit riots than an actual (fictionalised) depiction of the 1967 riots in “The Motor Town”.


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