Famed Director, Kathryn Bigelow, and writer, Mark Boal, of the Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker, bring the true story of Detroit’s 1967 racial riots to life with horrific depth and realistic violence that will leave the audience stunned at the brutality humans are capable of.
Set in 1967, with racial segregation and social tensions rising, riots finally break out in the “Motorcity” of Detroit, Michigan. The city quickly becomes the picture of a typical foreign war zone with a townscape of burning buildings and cars, the looting of local shops and armed soldiers, as well as tanks, patrolling the rubbish-strewn streets. The divide between the African-American rioters and the white police officers, Army members and National Guard officers is obvious, as the audience witnesses the brutal and racist treatment of the black community by the white males in power.
Once the background of the riots is set, the story then starts to narrow down into several small groups of characters as the film’s focus comes to light – the true story of three black male teenagers murdered in cold blood, and others brutally tortured, known as the Algiers Motel Incident. As one group of rogue and outwardly racist cops storm a hotel full of African American males, in hopes of finding a shooter who simply does not exist, horrific acts of police brutality take place and lives are forever changed.
Detroit is exactly as it sounds; an intense, direct look at the events of that fateful day in Detroit with the intense anger and frustration of the African American community emanating off the screen and onto the audience. The themes brought to light are incredibly relevant to our current times, especially the Black Lives Matter protests being held all around America, in protest of police brutality and the murder of African Americans. Same issue, 50 years later.
Bigelow’s directing and choice of cinematography is brutally up-front and un-ashamedly confronting, showing no desire to hide the vicious realities of being African American in 1960’s America. Her choice of hand-held camera work places the audience in the very midst of the chaotic violence of the riots, and the acts of violence have a documentary realism. This is why Detroit hits the viewer right in the heart; these horrific acts of racism, mainly by the Detroit police, are a major reminder of why it is so important to continue to fight for the rights of minorities and combat racially-based abuse of power.
One of the major factors of this film’s success is an utterly faultless cast. John Boyega, thrown into worldwide stardom through his lead role in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, is powerful as a young African American man morally torn between remaining responsible and staying out of trouble, and joining the riots and taking a stand for his community. He fills the often-torturous position of being an authority figure as well as an African American and the inner turmoil is persuasively portrayed.
Will Poulter (The Revenant, We’re the Millers), an actor who has never taken on a role as controversial as this one, terrifyingly nails the sadistic, murdering cop, Krauss, in what is a character that will strike fear into the hearts of all. Poulter manages to create a character who seems almost child-like and harmless, but is in fact a stone-cold, racist killer.
Young newcomer, Algee Smith, is also an absolute knockout as the talented, wanna-be Motown singer, Larry, who’s care-free attitude and positive outlook on life is confronted by the realities of a city whose racial tensions are boiling over. Smith gives it his all, showcasing the soul-destroying transition from hopeful young singer to someone scarred for life by the merciless actions of others in the name of hate.
Detroit is a powerful piece of cinema that hits the audience hard with the ghastly realities of the Detroit riots, allowing viewers to gain a deeper understanding of the fear and terror that African-Americans suffered during the time, and still have to confront today. Do not miss this important, social critique of the racism that cripples American society.
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Detroit is a powerful piece of cinema that hits the audience hard with the ghastly realities of the Detroit riots, allowing viewers to gain a deeper understanding of the fear and terror that African-Americans still have to confront today.