Timely Terror: Our Review of ‘Detroit’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - August 05, 2017
Timely Terror: Our Review of ‘Detroit’

The scene at the heart of Detroit is a lengthy and jarring one, a seemingly endless piece of intimate, visceral terror that will leave the viewer spellbound.

Such a tense cinematic moment has become the trademark of Kathryn Bigelow, who has helmed two previous mighty intense films, including Zero Dark Thirty with it’s own dramatic sequence. She is an efficient, effective filmmaker who knows how to elevate tension to wild heights, and make every moment indelible.

The act in question in Detroit takes place at the Algiers Motel in 1967, at the peak of riots that turned the motor city into a war zone. After placing you into the battlefield, identifying the warring factions as those in uniforms with those who aren’t and watching as black america runs from the police, wield molotov cocktails, and destroy property, Bigelow situates us and a few characters we’ve gotten to know over the course of the first hour or so inside the motel.

We are there with an idealist singer and his young colleague, who have holed up for the night escaping the chaos. Also there are a few friends, one of whom possessed, if only briefly a starter pistol. They are all black. The parties also have mutual acquaintances in two young women from Ohio – they are white.

Police raid the motel looking for a potential sniper, and hell is unleashed. We’ve white officers on one side, one of whom we’ve already seen shooting a looter in the back as he ran away. They are Detroit officers, and while police arrive at the state and federal level, they leave the situation up to these men.

Violence, abuse, terror, and murder take place; it seems like it never ends, and in that respect, Bigelow has done a great service to those involved in the horrific ordeal. While the exact details remain a mystery, Bigelow and writer Mark Boal have crafted a story based on testimonies from the subsequent trial and first person accounts of those who were there.

That includes Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega), a black security guard who almost exists in a purgatory in this film. Yes, the sides are drawn on black and white, but it’s also about those in power and those who aren’t. Dismukes is disrespected by both white and black men, because the latter see him aligned with those in controlling the system. Still, he is subject to the system’s discrimination. He is free from the exacting abuse inside the motel, but simultaneously, he has little power to alter events.  He watches in terror as we do.

A trial follows, and Bigelow still maintains a taut storytelling nature, letting the viewer come down somewhat from the Algiers assault without fully being able to capture a breath. The Detroit Rebellion as it became known took place over an infamous week in the late 60s as riots in other major cities, spurred by discrimination and segregation, and in DEtroit we’ve both an intimate look at events while also understanding what took place in the country as a whole.

Bigelow allows the setting, as well as subtle yet important dialogue and gestures inform a  compelling tale. While hearing the word ‘negroes’ may be unnerving, there is a lot of ‘them’ and ‘us’ talk, which is far more telling. THere are shades of discrimination to: those who do the terrible acts, but there are also those who stand by and let it happen. Some officers are complicit, while also don’t want to know anything. Then of course with the trial, we bear witness to institutional racism.

Importantly, and unfortunately, it’s a film that is far too relevant. And one that is required viewing.

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Anthony is a lover of a good story in any form, on any subject. Tirelessly navigating filmdom, he is equal parts an unbridled idealist and stubborn curmudgeon, trying to strike a balance between head and heart when it comes to pop culture. He pens stories about television, music, the environment, lifestyles, and all things noteworthy and peculiar.