In the midst the summer heat we are inundated with what feels like a never ending chain of reboots, sequels, spinoffs and any other creative combination of those. As the summer blockbuster season draws to a close we approach the “Oscar” movie season of fall, and the first one to come early out of the gate is the new film Detroit.
Kathryn Bigelow directed the film that stars John Boyega, Anthony Mackie, Will Poulter, Jason Mitchell and even a brief appearance by John Krasinski. It follows a story that highlights the Detroit riots of the 1960s and the days preceding what would become an infamous event occurring at the Algiers Motel. Regardless of its notoriety, this event highlights a systemic issue that’s been plaguing our country for decades: institutionalized racism. Whether on the street, in the back of a police van, in the court room or the jobs offered, it’s a problem that Detroit magnifies to a point of horror.
This film comes at you in three separate parts, first being the context or set up. We are introduced to a lot of the people who will inevitably meet up at the tragic event stated above and find themselves dealing with the riots in a variety of ways. Second comes the actual event at the motel, which I can not mention without speaking to its intensity. It is a heart breaking chain of scenes that will keep you pulsating, finding a way to shock you and horrify you at the disgusting truth surrounding these events. I won’t get in to too much regarding the conclusion as it could obviously take away from the intended impact of the film. That being said, I applaud Bigelow and the people behind this film, as it is a very difficult subject to address and actually do justice without coming off as offensive or preachy. This film tackles the hard subjects everyone knows exists to this day and peels of the scab we are all too afraid to remove revealing the underbelly of racism in a America.
It is possible that August is too early to start compiling award season lists, but Detroit has decent odds going forward, especially in any ensemble departments. No particular performance stole the show, but everyone in this film came to play and deliver powerful performances even if they only have one scene. This is the kind of film where relationships and political dynamics play heavily into how the story unfolds. Leading to fascinating interactions and limited dialogue allowing the actors and actresses present to shine in more ways than one. One in particular was a scene involving John Boyega and Will Poulter, it was a scene riddled with tension that concluded with Boyega giving nothing but an expression. An expression that conveyed disappointment, disgust and an understanding of the environment he has stumbled into. It was a scene and reaction by Boyega that hit me harder than other scenes that were crafted for the sole purpose of unsettling the viewer.
This was a chaotic time in the country and the city of Detroit. Turmoil was around every corner, in every convenience store and in the minds of both citizens and police. This film highlights a horrible event within the backdrop of the Detroit riots, but fails to ever go deeper into what these riots are, where it went wrong and why the powers at be are acting out in acts of hate. At almost two and a half hours in length I felt this movie sadly brushed over any context in terms of the systematic racism that was clearly present as well as any aftermath within the judicial system. Bigelow and company were facing a mountain they ultimately scaled with grace, class and brutal honesty, but that extra detail for me was lacking ever so slightly. In a film this long I truly believe an opportunity to shed some light on a broken system we still see today was a tragically missed opportunity.
Detroit in the end is one of the best made films of the year and I believe you will be hearing it called come award season in some way or another. It is a powerful experience that takes you into an unfortunate dark time in our country’s past and tells a story of the caliber most people are too scared to acknowledge exist. Lack of exploration into the systems in place and the powers at be I felt was a mistep, but that in no way prevents this film from hitting you where it hurts. Powerful performances, intense moments drizzled with an uncomfortable aurora and a brilliant direction in terms of getting this story at its core told. Detroit is a stand out in a summer riddled with an overabundance of “meh“, and may not be my favorite movie of the year but it is no doubt the most important.