In Kathryn Bieglow’s latest film, she takes on the 1967 Detroit riot that shook the city forever. Bigelow has done a great job taking on true stories before, like the Iraq War in The Hurt Locker and the assassination of bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty, both of which are great films that had me excited for this one. Here, Bigelow’s directing does not fail to stand out. She’s the most successful female director in Hollywood and it’s not hard to see why. The story is depicted mostly in the events of one night, in which the police raid of a motel generates horrible results. Although the setting is mostly small, these scenes are powerful and have lots of meaning in them. The cast is great, including Star Wars‘ John Boyega and especially Will Poulter as a ruthlessly racist white cop, but the real star is newcomer Algee Smith, who plays a musician who is emotionally scarred after the horrifying events of the film. He demonstrates lots of talent through his expression of fear and humanity in the movie. The first 45 minutes are slow and messy, as the historical concept is first introduced, and then we are given many characters to follow without any plot being brought forward until after this long first act. The directing was always great, but the writing in this first part could have been improved, and Barry Ackroyd’s style of quick cuts and handheld cam doesn’t quite work here. However, once the intensity kicked in, the writing became much more interesting and I was on the edge of my seat. The depiction of the excessive violence that the police unnecessarily used on the blacks in this time is painful to watch, and not just because you know it really happened, but because these situations still happen today and nothing his really changed since those violent and awful times. The scariest thing about Detroit is that the theme in the movie not only stands for the time period and the city it takes place in, but what is happening all over the country even today, and that change must be made. The ending is frustratingly realistic but has a point to prove and a state to make, one that will stay with you and hopefully inspire us all to move toward peace.
Kathryn Bigelow has made another great true story with Detroit, a difficult and realistic but moving feature that although not one of the best films of the year, it’s one of the most necessary. It takes on important themes like racism and violence, and is a moving history lesson that has a relevant message to both the past and the present.