"Detroit" (2017)- Movie Review

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Written by Mark Boal
Starring John Boyega, Anthony Mackie and Will Poulter

‘A Nerve-wracking Thriller’

Racism has long been a part of American history. Whether we would like to admit it or not, there has always been tension between blacks and whites. Through the course of history, many events have demonstrated this racial tension. From slavery to the racial segregation in the 1960’s, there have been many instances of racism in America. However, perhaps none have been as tragic as the Detroit riots in 1967. These riots saw African-Americans rising against the police at the expense of their lives. To this day, it remains a dark chapter in America’s history.

Kathryn Bigelow’s latest film “Detroit” is a gripping, suspenseful and powerful depiction of this real-life event. A nerve-wracking thriller, it captures in great detail the riots that took place during 1967. With the help of strong performances from a talented cast, director Kathryn Bigelow re-creates a shocking incident that actually happened. Using gritty realism and effective filming techniques, Bigelow re-creates a horrific time in American history. Although it is not easy to watch due to it’s disturbing subject matter, “Detroit” is a powerful film that demands to be seen. It sheds light on a historical event that is still relevant in the world today.

Set during the Detroit riots in 1967, “Detroit” focuses on an incident that took place at the Algiers Motel. Upon hearing the sound of a gunshot, the police raid the motel and interrogate the African-Americans living there. At the end of the raid, three African-American men are murdered and the rest brutally beaten by the police.

If there is anyone that is an expert at bringing true stories to the big-screen, it’s director Kathryn Bigelow. Over the last decade or so, Bigelow has brought harrowing real-life events to the big-screen. From the war drama “The Hurt Locker” to the terrorist thriller “Zero Dark Thirty”, she has never shied away from controversial subject matter. With “Detroit”, Bigelow has made a film that tackles a horrific incident in American history: the Detroit riots. It is not easy to re-create a historical event that took place nearly 50 years ago, but Bigelow has done a remarkable job. Using handheld camera, she has crafted an immersive film that makes the viewer experience the intense Detroit riots.

Kathryn Bigelow’s decision to shoot the film using handheld camera is extremely effective. Although the shaky-cam technique is often used in films, it rarely ever works. Most of the time, it causes motion sickness and detracts from the viewing experience. However, in “Detroit” the handheld camera is used brilliantly. Not only does it create tension and suspense, but it puts you into the position of the African-American victims. This handheld camera is used particularly well in the Algiers Motel sequence. As the camera lingers on the actors faces, you get a sense of the struggles African-Americans faced during the time.

When it comes to acting, “Detroit” features powerful performances from a star-studded cast. Every actor delivers and is committed to bringing the story to life. The actors go through extraordinary lengths to play their roles and deserve recognition come awards season.

Algee Smith delivers a heartbreaking performance as a survivor of police brutality. It is an emotionally draining role that requires a lot from an actor, but Smith does it full justice. Through intense expressions, he conveys the pain, anguish and suffering that African Americans faced during the time. With his expressions and beautiful singing voice, Smith is an actor with star-making leading man qualities. Hopefully, this performance will get him noticed in the industry and pave the way for a bright career.

Will Poulter is fantastic in the role of a racist and corrupt cop. This is the actor unlike you’ve ever seen him before: intense, menacing and aggressive in a villainous role. It is a difficult character to play because he is utterly unlikable and at times detestable. However, Poulter is so believable that by the end of the film all you want to do is punch him in the face.

John Boyega is another notable standout in the cast. Coming off his “Star Wars” phase, he shows great dramatic range. Although he doesn’t speak much, his expressions provide much more than you would think.

Despite these powerful performances, “Detroit” is not a film without flaws. Although the movie is thoroughly engrossing, the running time is slightly extended. At nearly 2 and a half hours, the movie is overlong and drags towards the end. It isn’t until the mid-way point, when the action shifts to the Algiers Motel, that the pacing picks up. I don’t mind when movies are long, but in this case it felt unnecessary. A little more attention to the editing may have elevated the film to another level.

In the end, “Detroit” is a controversial film that will not please everyone. As with all of Kathryn Bigelow’s films, it is dark, violent and at times disturbing. As a result, the film will certainly divide audiences. Some viewers will find the film upsetting, while others will be moved by it’s message. Whether the reaction is positive or negative, one thing is for sure: this film will spark interesting discussions about racism in the years to come.

3.5/5 stars

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