Where do I begin with this astonishing film?
Detroit (2017) dramatises the historical accounts of the Algiers Motel incident during the civil rights riots in Detroit in 1967. Three African-American teenagers—Aubrey Pollard, Fred Temple and Carl Cooper—were murdered and several others were assaulted by police officers in the chaos that ensued, after national guardsmen were believed to have been shot at by someone staying at the Algiers Motel. Directed by the acclaimed Kathryn Bigelow, who is set to receive the Motion Picture Sound Editors Filmmaker Award for her work, this film will chew you up and spit you back out.
The movie begins with an almost storybook, fairy-tale-like introductory sequence that explains the context and history of this narrative—but way more sick and twisted.
Set during the Detroit rebellion, the story revolves around three characters who endure the violence of one of the United States’ 159 race riots during the ‘Long Hot Summer of 1967’. The film centres on some of the individuals who were terrorised by racist policemen at the Motel, like Larry Reed (Algee Smith)—a young aspiring singer who finds himself and his friend staying at the motel amidst the chaos of the riots—and Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega), a security guard who, likewise, is caught up in the confusion of the incident. It also follows Philip Krauss (Will Poulter), a trigger-happy white police officer—symbolic of the little bullied boy on the playground who grew up to be the bully.
Immediately, Bigelow’s realist style of filmmaking shines in the film: the shaky, hand-held shots; the long, dark shadows; and the loud ambient soundtrack of people talking, laughing, and then screaming. Using real-life footage and photos from the riots, Bigelow makes you feel as if you’re watching a highly dramatised documentary. This only makes the film more effective because that realism scares you, and reminds you that this isn’t a fairy tale at all—it’s a hard, painful truth.
Terror is everywhere. The film captures perfectly a chaotic tension held precariously between the cops and the African-Americans—one that is only felt in rebellion. It explores the hatred that the Jim Crow Laws and the civil riots themselves inspired through brilliant sound (led by outstanding sound designer, Paul N.J. Ottosson) and directing. There is either a constant buzz of noise—of voices shouting as one, “Burn it down!”—or a still, stifling silence.
This is not a typical civil rights film. You will not be able to tear your eyes away from the screen, not even for a minute. An angry, disenfranchised crowd furiously attacks fearful cops; a little girl is shot dead, mistaken for a sniper; and the African-American security guard offers coffee to a group of bemused white cops. This film absolutely enthrals.
It’s a film that is so, so important, and I could feel Bigelow’s passion for this story screaming out through every frame and every shot. Her desire to create a film that is relevant was apparent. This movie, although set in the past, is about the individual and systematic racism that continues to thrive in the present. It’s about saying black lives matter, and here’s why: if this film makes you angry, then it achieves what it set out to do.
Honestly, I could watch this film again and again, and review it a million times, in a million different ways. This film explores how we as individuals react to cruel and chaotic situations, the balance of power and how power is so easily abused, and why we should question the system, not the people—whether they’re cops, musicians, or security guards. With phenomenal acting, clever camerawork and an interesting, original screenplay, this film will make your blood boil, your stomach turn and your noggin’ think.
What are you waiting for?
Detroit hits Luna Palace Cinemas today.