Kathryn Bigelow’s latest drama Detroit is about the cities civil rebellion some 50 years ago but ultimately feels as much like a war drama as Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker or Zero Dark Thirty.
Fact is, the Academy Award winning director depicts Detroit in 1967 like a war zone, brought on by hatred and race driven violence at the hands of men in blue against men and women of color.
The film opens up and immediately you feel the tension as police raid a party at a local drinking establishment. Some 40 black men and women are arrested, setting off the neighborhood who seemingly have had enough. And so the rioting begins.
But instead of continuing to highlight the carnage on the streets, Bigelow shifts attention to inside the Algiers Motel where seven black men and two white women were brutally tortured by the police. To get there, we meet a handful of the unfortunate souls including Algee Smith (The New Edition Story) who plays Larry Reed, lead singer of The Dramatics.
After the groups performance at the Fox Theatre is abruptly canceled Reed and his best friend Fred (Jacob Latimore) seek refuge at the motel. Another handful of teens are inside drinking and having a good time, as if the city isn’t going up in flames. Their apathy ultimately becomes their demise after one teen ( played by Jason Mitchell) shoots a starter pistol out the window. Police, led by one extremely racist officer (Will Poulter) converge on the motel and commence to torture and interrogate them for what feels like an eternity.
The 45-minute sequence is as important to watch as it is uncomfortable to stomach. It’s clear these officers believe their actions are moral and just, and by the time they are finished, three innocents are lying dead in pools of blood.
But instead of there being some sense of hope in the aftermath, these officers are not only acquitted, but the law abiding security guard (played by John Boyega) is now being accused of the murders.
Sadly the story is all too real, and often feels like it’s taking place in 2017, not 1967. The parallels between what happens in “Detroit” and the cases of police brutality and homicide in the Black Lives Matter era are overwhelming. And so it would seem that Bigelow’s goal, to use a historic event to shine a light on our countries current racial dilemma, is served. Unfortunately audiences may be too drained from the nearly 3 hour run time to spring into action.
If so, here’s hoping Detroit gets a second wind with an Oscar nomination, and a bigger platform for Bigelow to get her message across.