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‘Detroit’ (review)

Produced by Kathryn Bigelow,
Mark Boal, Matthew Budman,
Megan Ellison, Colin Wilson

Written by Mark Boal
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Starring John Boyega, Will Poulter,
Algee Smith, Jason Mitchell,
John Krasinski, Anthony Mackie,
Jacob Latimore, Jack Reynor

They say that every story has already been told at this point, and that we mostly recycle that which is already happened.

That mantra is incredibly clear in Kathryn Bigelow’s latest film Detroit, which covers the Algiers Motel incident in 1967.  As we watch the violence unfold, it is nearly impossible to separate it from today’s uneasy climate with regard to police accountability.

And yet, this movie stands alone as a stunning and stirring masterpiece of a human experience that no one should have to go through.

The film looks at a group of young black and white guests at the Algiers Motel over the course of a night when riots have rocked the city. After calls of a sniper in the vicinity, law enforcement arrives and the situation grows tense as 3 men are murdered in one of the most chilling stories of Detroit history.

Given Kathryn Bigelow’s work with sweeping war epics like The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty it’s no surprise that she was able to make the situation immediately visceral. Truly, we felt as if the guests were the victims in a war waged by a powerful enemy. There is little else to feel except for varying waves of horror and empathy, sometimes separate and sometimes together, as you watch the guests fear for both their lives and the lives of their friends.

Everyone is bound together by the possibility of imminent and unchecked aggression at the hands of the police officers. The cinematography stays true to her previous styles, with the camera trained on violent acts and no shying away from the sounds of close-quarter gunshots and hard-hitting punches.

It is so rare to have a villain with nothing that makes them redeemable in the eye of the audience. At no point does Bigelow attempt to humanize the officers, to give them a plausible argument for why they would do this. John Boyega’s portrayal of security officer Dismukes is the closest you will find to a foil to their actions. As he tries to bridge the gap between law enforcement and citizen, between black and white, he represents those who would be apologetic, and who would look for extenuating circumstances to explain the obvious violence on the screen.

While Jack Reynor and Ben O’Toole are equally excellent at playing crooked cops, it is Will Poulter’s chilling and unforgivable portrayal of Krauss that will haunt moviegoers anytime a black-and-white drives by. Though he seems incredibly young to be playing this kind of part, somehow his performance is so engaging and engrossing in its cruelty that the questionable age range is not distracting after a few minutes. And with a lengthy runtime of two and a half hours, you will have those minutes to come around to your opinion. While it may turn off those casually browsing through summer movie listings, the time simply flies by as you are gripped by Bigelow’s emotional and heart-wrenching storytelling.

If there are any flaws in this movie (and certainly, they would have to be looked for) it would be that there is little framing of the political climate that led up to the incident. With that said, it still stands as an amazing feat by Bigelow. When the credits came up I felt like I had merely been sitting in my seat for an hour. I also felt that I could not get up without unclenching my hands from the armrest and removing the immense weight from my chest.

This film will launch many a discussion, from its relation to incidents in the news today all the way to the idea of treating this kind of domestic matter at the same level as all-out war.

Yet when you walk away from Detroit, there will be no question in your mind that this is a battle for the ages and it was being waged in a hotel room on a hot night in 1967.

 

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