Release: 8th January 2017
Format: BR / DVD / DGTL
In the summer of 1967, rioting and civil unrest starts to tear apart the city of Detroit. Two days later, a report of gunshots prompts the Detroit Police Department, the Michigan State Police and the Michigan Army National Guard to search and seize an annex of the nearby Algiers Motel. Several policemen start to flout procedure by forcefully and viciously interrogating guests to get a confession.
There is a scene that comes reasonably early on in Detroit, when John Boyega’s Dismukes, while standing guard at a generic grocery store, seizes the opportunity to make coffee for a group of nearby soldiers. It is something of a tense moment – the city is in the throws of a race riot – yet the scene is deathly quiet. Subjectively it is a local offering comfort and donations to those sent to ‘protect’ the city from rioting, while objectively it is one of the most tragic images of the film. Because this image symbolizes one of two things, a black man kissing ass in an effort to be ‘part of the team’, in what would prove to be one of the more significant socially and ethnically relevant powder kegs in modern history. Or, and worse still, it represents the tragic reality that the white man’s unease with other races means he continues to present a very real threat to the prospect of universality; and as such must be approached with caution – placated and see the waving of a white flag. This act of temperance, however, is all for naught when subsequent events lead to the Tangiers. As we know, stupidity, anger, fear and pride will always out. It seems 1967 and 2017 are not such distant cousins after all.
It has been a while since Kathryn Bigelow did a close quarters movie *cough* K-19 *cough* but she steps back into it here with relative ease. Detroit is a sweaty film littered with whispers and stale air. But Bigelow does not rush things, she takes her time playing act one out as a full-on historical drama, before swapping those conventions for something more akin to John Carpenter’s The Thing, or more appropriately, Michael Haneke’s Funny Games. Interestingly, Mark Boal’s script chooses to serve up a little more meat on the bones of its subjects than you might have expected. Yes, Will Pouter’s Krauss is a total psycho bastard, but his anger seems less like prejudice and more like loss of control and apathy. Karen and Julie (played by Kaitlyn Dever and Hannah Murray, respectively) have a suspicious relationship with Carl and co. (although neither drugs, sex nor alcohol are mentioned, their set up has all the hallmarks of a ‘party girl’ vibe). Likewise, although it is hardly a crime, Fred and Larry (Algee Smith and Jacob Latimore) seem to be drawn into this situation by the undying prospect of getting to spend the night with Karen and Julie. These are kids, doing what kids do, stupid things. Also, it is without question who the film’s villains and victims are, but its Carl Cooper who invites the devil in. These are the trademarks of a lost and angry youth coming up against an intolerant and nasty authority figure in a hailstorm of chaotic roars for change against inequality. It is also a shining example of why some who call themselves keepers of the peace have no right to wear a badge. Yes, the good cops are hopefully the many, but for every good cop, there is always a coward and a bully waiting in the wings; or in today’s society, The White House.
As the film winds down, its settles into a sort of court room drama that has a striking resemblance to the melancholy of Brooks Hatlen’s final scenes in The Shawshank Redemption. There is hope at the end, but it is minimal. This is without a doubt the most upsetting and distressing Bigelow project to date. It is a solid experience, but by no means an enjoyable one.
The most frustrating element of Detroit is that there are almost too many players at hand, and no one beyond Pouter or Boyega really registers. Yes, there are some wonderful flourishes of acting, and when the impact moments arrive, they jar the mind and hurt the soul, but not because we have become attached to the characters, rather that we can register the horrifying injustice of it and know that it actually happened. Boyega, particularly, gets to claim the film with one particular scene set in a police interview room. This moment of raw emotion alone is proof that there is way more to this young man that protecting tower blocks and fighting the First Order.
It may not be the key theme behind Detroit, but one cannot help but think that throughout the project, Bigelow had the following Edmund Burke quote in mind; “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing.” The sad reality is that, it is as true a statement now, as it was in the summer of 1967 at the Algiers.
Film Grade: B-
Not more than a series of EPKs. A wasted opportunity if ever there was one!
Special Features Grade: D
A terrific film let down by a lack of meaningful special features.