Detroit UV or iTunes Code
An emotionally numbing film that is hard to shake
By M. Oleson TOP 500 REVIEWER on October 30, 2017
Theater review. Possible spoilers. Oscar winning director Kathryn Bigelow takes on an unlikely story about an incident that happened 50 years ago in the 5th largest city in the U. S. Several large cities were beginning to smolder that year with racial unrest prompted by overly aggressive police. It got everybody’s attention in Detroit in the summer of 1967.
As black people moved from the South to northern cities, Detroit was a desired destination, primarily because the auto industry offered plenty of jobs. As the blacks moved in, whites moved out to the suburbs. While the Detroit police force was still predominantly white, their constituents weren’t. A police raid on an unlicensed club set off a destructive event that nearly levelled the city and began an economic decline from which it still hasn’t fully recovered.
This story focuses on the events at the Algiers Motel. Several young men were staying there along with a recently discharged soldier named Greene (Anthony Mackie). He happened to be entertaining a couple white girls (Kaitlyn Dever and Hannah Murray) who appear to be in prostitute training. Two members of a singing group arrive. Larry (a terrific Algee Smith) who is the lead singer and Fred (Jacob Latimore), a manager. They decide to stay the night rather than get involved in the rioting.
Nearby, Dismukes (John Boyega), a private security guard is watching over a grocery store. While horsing around in his room with some friends, one of the guys thinks it would be funny to shoot of a starter’s pistol in the direction of the National Guard who have been called out to maintain order. This leads to an assault on the Algiers, led by a patrolman named Krauss (Will Poulter). Along with his closest partners, Demens (Jack Reynor) and Flynn (Ben O’Toole) gather all of the occupants into one room and begin to assault them because they can’t find “the gun” and no one knows who shot it. This takes up much of the movie.
The scenes are brutal and hard to watch. And what makes the whole event seem so stomach churning is that the State Police, the National Guard, the Sheriff, Dismukes and fellow Detroit cops turn the other way. Essentially their position is they will let these ill-trained, racist cops do their thing. Of course 3 young men are murdered.
Bigelow and her writer Mark Boal have based the events on what detail is available. Much of it comes from Dismukes from what I understand. Official details are sketchy because the police altered the official documents. The 3 cops are eventually arrested and charged with murder. The trial is a sham with a jury composed of 12 white men. Bigalow and her cinematographer Barry Ackroyd shoot much of the film gonzo style with hand held cameras and include a lot of jittery action. The first half of the film feels much like a documentary. I read somewhere that the event was said to be a “teachable moment” in American history. Obviously we still haven’t learned the lesson. The film has a numbing after effect and is hard to shake.