Genre: Crime, Drama, History
Running Time: 143 Minutes
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Jason Mitchell, John Krasinski and Anthony Mackie
Amidst the chaos of the Detroit Rebellion, with the city under curfew and as the Michigan National Guard patrolled the streets, three young African American men were murdered at the Algiers Motel.
It is true that there’s a difference between a film that is unpleasant to watch, and one that is just unpleasant. Back in 2004 I was fortunate enough to win tickets to the premiere of Terry George’s incredible film Hotel Rwanda. During his introduction George said “you will not enjoy this, but it’s important that you watch.” A more appropriate summary of Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit could not be imagined.
From the 90s action of Point Break to the realistically horrific (and criminally underrated) vampire movie Near Dark , Bigelow has always established herself as a filmmaker of incredible talent and extreme versatility in her range. Detroit (her third collaboration with Oscar winning writer Mark Boal) is the story of the “Algiers Motel Incident”, a shameful episode of American history where three unarmed, African American men were killed by Detroit police during the “12th Street riots” of 1967.
Bigelow has clearly decided to make a film that evokes discussion by presenting the events depicted in as realistic a manner possible. Cinematographer Barry Ackroyd (United 93, Captain Phillips, and The Hurt Locker) employs his formidable, “unconsidered” handheld camera style to truly show the terror and inherent confusion of the incidents before and during the killings.
All round excellent performances from the cast also make for authentic, albeit uncomfortable, viewing. The stand out is the ever excellent Will Poulter (Son of Rambow, The Revenant) who is bone chillingly perfect in his role as Krauss, the racist cop and chief architect of the event (I must confess I spent a large part of the movie regretting the fact that Poulter dropped out of the role of Pennywise in the upcoming adaptation of IT).
Supporting Poulter is Jack Reynor and Ben O’Toole who both give incredible performances as racist police officers holding the group of young men and women hostage. The trio evoke terror effortlessly and seemingly without compromise. Their group of victims, including Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton) and Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker) all give fantastic performances and are the conduit for the terror of the audience.
I feel it pertinent to mention film editors William Goldberg and Harry Yoon, and production designer Jeremy Hindle for making an incredible contribution to the film. The archival footage used blends seamlessly with the world that these talented artists have created on film and for that they have my respect.
The third act may be a little too long and overblown but ultimately the film is unflinchingly real and uncompromising in its authenticity of the events at the Algiers Motel. The script, direction, photography, design and performances of the film are formidable and all lend themselves to establishing this result.
So, how does this affect the audience? Well, the film is an unpleasant, immersive experience. However, such a film shouldn’t be a pleasure to watch. Bigelow has no interest in entertaining or providing a “popcorn experience”. Her purpose is clearly to tell a horrific story to a mass audience and provoke dialogue about it. To this end I have no doubt that she will. Unfortunately, lack lustre box office figures from across the pond may prove me wrong.
I sincerely hope that the film finds its audience. You may only see it once, you may not enjoy it but it is a story that deserves to be told. So listen.
An immersive, unflinching experience of terror. Uncompromising in its authenticity and brutally honest in its execution.