I watched Detroit last night, Kathryn Bigelow‘s new film about three black men who were murdered at the Algiers Motel during the 1967 Detroit Riots. Bigelow’s other films include The Hurt Locker (2008), K-19: The Widowmaker (2002), and Zero Dark Thirty (2012), a mixed record as far as I’m concerned. But all I can say is, wow. Detroit grabs you and never lets go. It’s by far the best movie I’ve seen this year. Here are some of my first impressions:
- I wasn’t alive during the 1960s, but the movie feels authentic. The settings, dress, characters, and documentary style transport you back to that time, and not in a cliched, feel-good way.
- Will Poulter, who played Kenny Rossmore in We’re the Millers (2013), is incredible as a racist Detroit patrolman named Philip Krauss. Everything from his hair to his facial expressions make him look like he stepped off the pages of an early 1960s yearbook.
- Although Detroit doesn’t disguise its message, it isn’t entirely one-sided, showing the destructiveness of the mob and the efforts of some white policemen and authority figures try to combat the excesses of racist officers.
- Powerful images dominate the film. When a security guard named Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega) is taken into an interrogation room, you can see a handcuff dangling from a pipe and a discolored stain on the wall at the same level as his head. The movie doesn’t have to show violent interrogations took place–all it needs is this one brutal image.
- Detroit’s run time is over two hours, but it grips you and never slows down until the ending trial scene. By the way, John Krasinski is really out of place as an attorney named Auerbach. He was the only bad casting choice.
- I understand why the filmmakers chose to focus on the controversial event at the Algiers Motel, but it downplays the 40 other people who died during the five-day riots. 1,189 people were also injured, including 348 Detroit police and firefighters, 55 National Guardsmen, 67 State Police, 15 Wayne County Sheriff deputies, and eight soldiers. 2,509 stores were looted or burned.
- Although an attempt was made, I don’t think enough was done to show how the National Guardsmen and other law enforcement trying to restore order felt threatened by the rioters. While it doesn’t excuse their behavior, it might help explain why they were so on edge, which the audience never gets a solid feel for.
- The the main character, played by Algee Smith, finds some solace in gospel music, there is no happy ending here.
I’ll have much more when I post my full review next week.