In Theatres: 
Jul 28, 2017
Running Time: 
143 minutes

Both of Kathryn Bigelow’s last two films gave an intimate look into varying aspects of war. The Hurt Locker explored bomb technicians during the Iraq War, and Zero Dark Thirty reenacted the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. They’re intense films that highlight the ongoing conflicts and turmoil of the time. Bigelow brings her unique style of filmmaking to Detroit, where she paints a city landscape in unrest as racial tensions come to a boiling point. The film is a dramatization of the 1967 Detroit Riots, but it’s a subject that is still very much relevant in today’s society.


Detroit centers around one particular incident that happened at the Algiers Motel during the 12th Street Riots in which police raided the motel looking for a sniper. What then followed was a brutal and unlawful interrogation of 10 black men and two white women that would leave three of the men dead by the end of the night and no weapons found.


We see the events unfold through the eyes of everyone involved. Larry Reed (Algee Smith) is the lead singer of the R&B group, The Dramatics, and they find themselves staying the night at the motel after what would have been their breakthrough performance is cancelled due to the increasing danger of the riots. Everyone there is just trying to have a good time and stay out of harm’s way. That all goes to hell when one of the hotel guests fires a starter pistol out the window, causing the local, state, and federal police to come running with their very real guns drawn. Leading the charge is Officer Philip Krauss (Will Poulter) who is determined find his smoking gun, regardless of how. In addition, local security guard Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega) is drawn into the incident and does his best to keep the situation from spiraling out of control despite being caught in the middle.


The film plays out like a horror film as Bigelow captures the intensity of every moment in the hotel. Every second is met with trepidation because you know how this situation plays out. You’ve seen it in the news and on the internet; white cops using excessive power over black citizens. Will Poulter is absolutely terrifying as Krauss. The entire situation is just a game to him where there are no rules and no one else can win. He has no problem torturing these people for his own enjoyment. You’re constantly on edge, knowing that no matter what these black men do or say, they’re absolutely powerless over what happens to them.


Despite occurring in 1967, the events depicted in Detroit feel all too familiar. I can’t help but see the similarities to the Ferguson riots and the continuing news stories of police brutality. This isn’t just a film about history; it’s also very much about the present. It’s why the trial of the police officers isn’t nearly as shocking as the event. We all know how it’s going to go down, because we’ve seen those in a position of power get off scot-free time and time again.


Detroit is a difficult but powerful film to watch that plays out with the intensity of any war film and doesn’t let up until the third act. Even then you still feel sickened by what’s happening on screen. Most importantly it’s a reminder that racism and police brutality are not a thing of the past, and that there is still plenty in our society that need to change.

Matt Rodriguez
Review by Matt Rodriguez
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