Film Review: Detroit (2017)

2017 in Cinema:

Detroit, 2017

Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow

Starring: John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Jason Mitchell, John Krasinski, Anthony Mackie


The unofficial third instalment to Kathryn Bigelow’s Based-On-True-Events films (including The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty). Detroit is an adaptation of the Detroit riots of 1967, spurred on by the dominant white police force bullying the black community, specifically the Algiers Motel incident where police officers grouped all the motel’s residents (most of whom were black) and threatened violence to find out the owner of the gun. In the ensuing melee three young black lads were murdered by white police officers.

Kathryn Bigelow’s adaptation is brutal; very early on police officers shoot at what they suspect is a sniper, and it is a powerful and brutal moment. And Will Poulter’s (The Maze Runner) performance as Philip Krauss, an extremely racist white police officer, is terrific. Towards the end you genuinely hate his character; he’s the leading police officer during the Algiers Motel incident, and prior to that event kicking off we see him shoot down a black looter. These performances mixed with Academy Award-winning writer Mark Boal’s writing come together perfectly.

Much like with Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, Detroit is presented with a documentary-style presentation: choosing to utilise a hand-held shaky-camera, and while it helps with the brutality, giving it a more authentic appearance, it does become a bit too much as the film goes on. With its running length well over two hours, the constant shaking of the camera distracts from some scenes, and this, mixed with some short edits, can sometime take over.

One brilliantly emotional part of this film is Bigelow’s decision to include genuine photographs and news-reels from the time. While we see characters dying, the immediate cuts to their real-life counterpart’s death really hammers home how true this film is. A large chunk of the film is taken up by the Algiers Motel incident, with only a little build-up to why these characters are there and the riots. We see day one and two of the riots briefly, then by day three we’re at the Algiers, and upon the conclusion of the incident we are taken to the police station and the courtroom as the police officers are forced to stand on trial for murder.

To counter the horrific theme behind this film, we are shows a brief sample of The Dramatics, a professional R&B group, as two of their members, Larry (Algee Smith) and Fred (Jacob Latimore), were involved in the Algiers Motel incident. This break away from the dark and brutal scenes is nice, and reminds you of the lives all the people were living outside of the riots and the chaos in the streets. We aren’t presented with lives of the police officers, they are simply there to arrest, batter and force their will on the black population.

Not an easy film to watch considering its topics, Detroit is easily Kathryn Bigelow’s best film (that I’ve seen), and her combination with Mark Boal comes together to beautifully and brutally create a truly hard-hitting film, with great actors and a great build-up of suspension. And while the shaky-camera may be appealing to some, it did affect the overall enjoyment of the film.


Plot: * * *     Acting: * * * *     Writing: * * * * *     Presentation: * * *

Overall Rating: * * * ¾

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