Kathryn Bigelow has never shied away from real life events that are both violent and painful to endure. "Detroit" is no different. Expertly reconstructing the tragic events of a riotous summer night in the city of Detroit in 1967, Bigelow has once again established herself as one of the premier directors of her generation --- male or female.
Set on the third night of rioting, shots were reported fired near the staging area of the National Guard. Believing that the gunfire came from the annex of the Algiers Motel, members of the Detroit Police Department, the Michigan State Police and the Michigan Army National Guard descended upon the motel. At the end of the night, three unarmed African-American men were dead and the remainder of the group, including two young white women from Ohio, had been badly beaten and traumatized.
Bigelow and her steady collaborator, Mark Boal, who penned the screenplay for "Detroit", do not shy away from the brutality of this unbelievably tense situation. At times, it is almost too sickening to watch --- but watch we must, lest we forget.
Much of what happened that night was gleaned through testimony and research. Not every single detail is accounted for, so Boal does take some license with his narrative. But the naked violence spurred on by pure hatred is on full display here by Bigelow and her crew.
The casting is superb. David and I rarely discuss a film after a screening, but we did wonder how these young actors endured such a torturous experience. Included are Anthony Mackie as Greene, Algee Smith as Larry, Jacob Latimore as Fred, Jason Mitchell as Carl, Nathan Davis Jr. as Aubrey, Peyton "Alex" Smith as Lee and Malcolm David Kelley as Michael. John Boyega plays security guard Melvin Dismukes, with Will Poulter as Krauss, Ben O'Toole as Flynn and Jack Reynor as Demens, the three Detroit police officers featured most prominently in the abuse.
Hannah Murray and Kaitlyn Dever are exceptional as Julie and Karen, the young women caught in the crosshairs because they had run out of money. John Krasinski has a nice cameo as Attorney Auerbach, the lawyer for the defendants, Krauss, Flynn, Demens and Dismukes.
At two hours and twenty-three minutes, "Detroit" could have overplayed the hysteria of the Detroit Rebellion. Bigleow is adept at telling her story and lacing it with just the right amount of background and distraction. Her editors, William Goldenberg and Harry Yoon, have masterfully crafted a fast-paced, riveting account of a night of true horror.
Opinion: See It Now!
The decade of the 1960's was as turbulent as any in American annals. The Vietnam War protests, plus the assassinations of JFK, RFK and Martin Luther King, were all major events that shocked the nation. What has largely been forgotten are the race riots in Detroit during the summer of 1967. Two-time Academy Award winning director Kathryn Bigelow has resurrected those several days of chaos, known as the 12th Street Riot or the Detroit Rebellion, in her searing new movie, "Detroit".
Although the heinous actions of racist police officers in Detroit occurred over 50 years ago, it is clear that race relations in this country have not gotten much better. The calculated and sadistic mistreatment of innocent black civilians, plus two white women, at the now non-existent Algiers Motel, is depicted in stunning realism,
re-creations that may haunt you for many days after you leave the theater.
Three black men were murdered in cold blood by the police, others were severely beaten, and the two women suffered unconscionable physical and psychological indignities. Several of the people detained by police at the hotel are still alive, so Bigelow and her screenwriter, Mark Boal, interviewed them extensively to ensure as much accuracy as possible as to what actually occurred, although some dramatic liberties are utilized.
If you saw the comedy "We're the Millers" (2013), you may recall young British actor Will Poulter playing the "fake" son of Jennifer Aniston and Jason Sudeikis with great comic results. Poulter was cast by Bigelow to play Philip Krauss, the chief antagonist of the Detroit police force, and a supreme racist, who led the horrific abuse at the Algiers Motel. His astounding performance is an amazing transformation, and proof that good actors can be effective in any role. In fact, Poulter was so caught up in his malevolent portrayal that after several days of shooting, he broke down and sobbed, asking his director how long will this scene go on?
The other mainstay of the film is Algee Smith who plays Larry Reed, the teenaged lead singer of an up-and-coming group called The Dramatics. The five-person singing ensemble was about to perform on stage in Detroit when their spot was canceled as police suddenly ordered the audience at their venue to vacate the theater.
Reed and his friend, Fred Temple (Jacob Latimore), then booked a room at the Algiers to wait out the chaotic rioting of the city, only to find themselves in the middle of what became a deadly encounter with police, state troopers and the National Guard.
Certainly three deaths are an unfathomable result of what went down that night. But in Reed's case, his hopes of a musical career went up in ashes. That he never realized his full potential as a bona fide singing talent is tragic, as well, and Smith is masterful exhibiting the disappointment and resentment that shattered his dream.
Two supporting performances are exceedingly memorable in "Detroit". Hannah Murray ("Game of Thrones") is Julie, one of the abused young women from Ohio, in Detroit on a brief vacation that turned into a nightmare. Anthony Mackie, reuniting with Bigelow after his major role in "The Hurt Locker", plays Greene, a veteran of the war in Vietnam who bears the full brunt of Krauss' cruelty.
John Krasinski plays Auerbach, an attorney who defends the cops in their trial two years later. His character is the type you will despise. And John Boyega, who played Finn from "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" (2015), is Melvin Dismukes, a hard working two-job-a-day guy who is caught up in the middle of the strife, detained and questioned by two intimidating detectives determined to elicit a confession from him. Although Boyega is top billed in "Detroit", I found his character less compelling than the rest.
Eight-time Oscar nominee James Newton Howard provides the stirring music. Finally, Boal collaborates with Bigelow for a third time. A double Oscar winner for "The Hurt Locker" and "Zero Dark Thirty", Boal has scripted a taut, no-nonsense story which bristles with tension, making the film's 143 minute running time fly by.
"Detroit" is Bigelow's powerfully told vision of yet another dark time in American history. But the film is not a scathing indictment of police authorities in general, or even all the men in blue from Detroit at the time. Bigelow is careful to showcase, however briefly, the noble behavior of some law enforcement members who sensibly and rationally came to the aid of the victims.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!