In 1967, a deadly riot in Detroit turned the city upside down. With city and state enforcement accompanied by the National Guard, an attempt was made to restore order. When local police and National Guard respond to gunfire from around a nearby motel, a terrible incident unfolds between Detroit police and guests at the Algiers motel. This dramatization of the events are accompanied by contemporary footage from the riots that both emphasize the story of the individuals involved as well as the climate and civil unrest experienced in Detroit at the time.
The horrible violence and racism related to the ongoing history of civil liberties is an intense subject and Detroit succeeds in demonstrating that. American history is founded on civil injustice and Detroit functions as a reminder of the remaining prevalence to this day. The presence of unrest and inequality persists today, with the recent events like the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Freddie Gray or riots in Ferguson. It is hard to live your life and stand up for what you believe in when the threat of death is around every corner.
Detroit lays down the foundation leading up to the riots creatively, through drawings providing background and history leading up to the nights in question. The visualization is more engaging than simple text, which is critical.
Detroit has a flow and energy throughout the entire film that is similar to a war movie. Moments of relaxation and peace are few and far between, but welcomed among an otherwise abhorrent story line. Detroit maintains a strong unsettling tone and stays there. I could see some saying that the violence is too much, but the violence and unsettling tone of the film is purposeful and there for a reason. We are not supposed to be comfortable with this and Bigelow and cinematographer, Barry Ackroyd, make sure we are not.
Considering the subject matter of this movie, I was thankful that there were even a a few characters that were actually trying to do the right thing. While unbalanced, there were still instances of both sides of the coin. There were violent and racist police and helpful and comforting police. There was an abundance of complacent authoritative figures, in the state police that flee the scene, and on the other side there were detectives cracking down on racism and brutality among their own force.
The narrative is compelling and it is only enhanced by the cast, the direction, and the editing. Detroit is raw both in content and the way that the camera is in the action and present in the fear and suffering. Bigelow succeeds in capturing the cruelty and torture of not only the incident, but the surrounding riots as well. She also brings the viewer in and traps them the same way the guests are trapped in the motel.
I am excited to see more work from Will Poulter. He is certainly standing out after his performance in The Revenant and now Detroit.
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
Cinematography: Barry Ackroyd
Written by: Mark Boal
Music by: James Newton Howard
Runtime: 2h 23m
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller, History
Distributed by: Annapurna Pictures