Review: Detroit

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, Detroit depicts the events of a police raid on the Algier’s Motel during the Detroit riots in 1967, it highlights the injustice of racist police brutality in a harsh and relevant film. The film stars Algee Smith as Larry Reed, a Motown singer who escapes the riot ridden streets to the aforementioned Motel – where things only get worse for him.

John Boyega performance as security guard Melvin Dismukes is fantastic, his facial ticks and subtle expressions demonstrate his immense skill as an actor. Will Poulter however is the standout performer of the film. He plays Philip Krauss, a young and over-zealous cop who is completely out of his depth, perfectly juggling the role of detestable psychopath and beleaguered kid to portray a character that the audience fears and hates but is recognisably human.

It follows these three key characters through the events before and after the terrifying incident in a film that is riveting and painful to watch. However, both Boyega and Smith’s characters (as well as the other victims) lack depth beyond their involvement in the event and feel quite difficult to care about beyond their struggle for survival. The oppressors are given much more depth than the victims which feels illogical in a film rightfully sympathetic to the oppressed.

This lack of empathy for protagonist characters lies in the style of the film and an issue which I think is prominent in Bigelow’s films. Both The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty had a documentary style that sacrificed characterisation for a forensic look at real life situations. The opening act of the film shifts through the events of the Detroit Riots in a fly on the wall documentary style and the audience isn’t introduced to either primary protagonist for ten minutes, this lack of character early makes the opening seem disjointed from the rest of the film.

The middle third of the film is the exceptional one, the fly on the wall style camerawork from Barry Ackroyd’s rapid cinematography draws the viewer into experiencing the events of the raid, which are told at an incredibly fast and stressful pace.  you feel worn out throughout this section of the film and Poulter is able to eek genuine fear and hatred from the squirming audience, this section excels in presenting the injustice of police brutality and understanding of the fear of the black characters for their racist oppressors.

The final third of the film is where I feel Detroit somewhat loses it’s way. The pace slows right down again to explore the aftermath of the events, which are important to cap off the injustice of the events. However, I feel like the message would have been more impactful if it was done so in a more succinct way. The ending text epilogue is a cliche in true life films and felt unnecessary again in this film.

Overall I found Detroit to be a film that left me feeling bruised and uncomfortable. This is an extremely important film, especially as lessons have yet to be learnt in the modern climate. This film is a timely release when the themes of police brutality, rioting and racism still remain prominent.

Detroit is in cinemas nationwide now. Image source: Tate.org.uk

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Benjamin Hewitt

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