“Detroit” Is Bigelow’s best film yet


Detroit Poster

Many of us never knew about the Algiers Murder Trial following the riots in the mid-60’s in Detroit, Michigan, but all of us know recent riots such as Ferguson and  Rodney King.  History, it seems, repeats itself.  “Detroit,” written by Mark Boal and directed by Kathryn Bigelow brings us back to that fateful date in 1967 when the city of Detroit had become a war zone. Starring Will Poulet, John Bologna, Alger Smith, and Jacob Latimore, the film recreates what happened to a group of young performers as they became stranded on the streets in the midst of violence.  This emotionally intense and exhausting film is aptly timed as we see the history we create today, reflected by our past.


The opening scenes take us through a timeline of history, explaining with stop-action drawings and animation the unrest and inequitabldetroit3e treatment of Black people in America.  We are then thrust into an illegal, after-hours party where there is a raid taking place.  Bigelow sets up the tension right from the beginning, never letting us take down our guard.  While difficult to watch the cruelty, it’s necessary to bring you into understanding the realities and how perceptions are created.

July 23, 1967 is Day 1 of the Detroit Riots.  Bigelow uses found footage from television newscasts to bring a sense of urgency and reality to this recreation.  We meet the police officers, Krauss (Poulter) and Flynn (Ben O’Toole) who play a pivotal role in not only many unnecessary deaths, but the need for the Algiers Murder Trial to take place.  The two young boys, Larry (Smith) and Fred (Latimore), band members of The Dramatics, whose journey is diverted to the Algiers Motel, find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Tpoulter-detroit-wide-400x226heir lives intersect with other random people, Julie (Hannah Murray), Karen (Kaitlyn Dever), Greene (Anthony Mackie) and Dismukes (John Boyega), creating what would become a life-changing event for all.DetroitBoyega

Bigelow takes us into these characters’ lives from Day 1.  We see Dismukes’ hard-working and well-defined attitude, attempting to soothe various situations.  Officers Krauss and Flynn are the lit matches that are tossed into several barrels of gasoline, igniting havoc wherever they go.  Larry and Fred are characters that we immediately connect with, taking us on their emotional journey of fear, shattered dreams, and lost hope.

This is a complicated story as each aspect is clearly outlined, from the police officers’ viewpoint and their commanding officers’ responses to those who are on the street creating riots and attempting to stand up for their rights or just survive.  The situation at the Algiers Motel is as riveting as it is disturbing.  The brutality physically and emotionally is unfathomable.  The intensity of the dire situation takes your breath away, knowing that these events actually occurred.  The inhumanity is incomprehensible, allowing you to readily understand how a Black person would immediately fear the police and all interaction.

The film itself is grainy and gritty, conjuring the emotional texture of the story.  The feeling of constant darkness or muted colors gives a sense of impending doom and the style of perhaps a hand-held camera evokes an image of a documentary; almost a cinema verite form for a narrative film.  The elements that Bigelow painstakingly incorporates into the film create such power and impact—nothing less than the historical story deserves.  While Bigelow takes on enormous and heavy projects such as “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” it is “Detroit” that is her best yet.  She projects the underlying circumstances and incorporates reality and historical facts in a seamless manner, always conveying the emotional aspects with precision.  Her cast is simply stellar.  Poulter who immediately comes to mind from “We Are The Millers” and “The Revenant” has tossed his sweetness and boyish naiveté to the side and delved deeply indetroit5to himself to create a despicable moral monster.  Boyega stands out as his intensity is palpable.  He easily creates a character we care about and fear for his every move.  He is extraordinarily powerful in finding ways to exhibit a myriad number of thoughts and feelings.  Smith and Latimore are exquisite in their reactions and interactions, bringing the audience into their world and their minds.  We are with them every step of the way.  Bigelow has created an historical masterpiece as she directs these talented actors, tells an historically significant story which many don’t know, and bring many of us as close to empathy as possible without truly walking in their shoes.

“Detroit” is a story that should be told and never forgotten.  Learning from our past is the only way to make our future better and based on our current unrest, we need to remember history and take heed.  “Detroit” is a riveting and intensely distressing film  that is well-crafted and truly powerful.  This is an Academy Award winner just waiting for March 4, 2018 to arrive.

4 Stars







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