This film left me conflicted but before I discuss in spoiler-free manner, let me give you a summary of what it’s about.
Detroit is based on the Algiers Motel incident that took place during the titular city’s 1967 riot. The film opens with a party celebrating the return of black veterans in an unlicensed club, when police stage a raid that soon escalates, causing the beginning of the city’s riot.
Following Larry Reed (an exceptional Algee Smith), the lead singer of Motown group The Dramatics and his friend Fred Temple (a strong, quiet and controlled Jacob Latimore), we end up at the Algiers Motel where they meet two white girls, Julie and Karen and a few black teenagers, including Carl and Aubrey.
A gunshot is fired from the motel leading the police to open fire and begin their reign of terror on its residents in order to find the gun. Phillip Krauss (a chilling Will Poulter) leads his fellow officers Demens and Flynn in terrorising the residents but also present is Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega, on form) a black private security guard who is there to help but is ultimately unable to do anything about the injustice and brutality he witnesses.
Okay, summary done, let’s discuss.
I left this film feeling veryheated! Once the brutality began in the motel and I realised that it was where the majority of the film was going to take to place, I felt incredibly trapped. And not in an ‘ah it’s immersive’ way, but in an ‘I am very uncomfortable and
if I don’t get out of here I’m going to start swinging‘ sort of way. With a run time of 143 minutes, you can imagine that I was forced to feel like this for a long time.
It’s important to note that Detroit was made by a nearly all-white crew, directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by frequent collaborator, Mark Boal. The two of them made The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, two films that I found to be fantastic andI really admire Bigelow as a filmmaker but I am always weary of a white person or any non-black person really, being in charge of something mostly specific to black people.
And it’s for good reason as this film had no heart. And I understand how that may sound considering the film’s topic and issues of racial inequality and police brutality but why was this film actually made? What point were they trying to get across? Who is it for?
If you’re going to make me watch police casual kill and beat up black teenagers, it’s going to have to be for a reason because I see enough of that in real life.
It was the ‘you better start praying’ scene that actually left me burning in my seat and if you’ve seen it, please let me know your thoughts. I honestly wanted to leave at that point because I was silently fuming but I just kept telling myself to stick it out, there might be a payoff.
This film is not badly made, like I’ve mentioned, Bigelow has tremendous skill as a filmmaker, not to mention that the film has an absolutely outstanding cast. I will say that I think that it is badly told. Black women held an important role in this part of history but were unsurprisingly cast to the side, there to lay a comforting hand on the shoulder of their husbands or call an ambulance for a boy in need. What’s crazy is that although it has polarised a small amount of people, I can honestly see this film being up for Best Picture noms. I wanted to love this film, I thought I would when I first heard about it and I definitely didn’t hate it straight off the bat. I’ve heard black people talk about how they like it and I won’t fault them for it because I’m still confused about how the film seems to have all the right components but ultimately didn’t sit well with me, at all.
Detroit may have the right idea but ultimately it’s an empty film devoid of heart and any real meaning.