Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
By Christopher Spencer
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, Detroit stars John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Jack Reynor, and Anthony Mackie. Detroit tells the story of the events leading up to, during, and after the titular riots in 1967, largely focusing on a police standoff at the Algiers Motel.
The fact that riots this large happened several years AFTER the passing of the Civil Rights Act and the Selma to Montgomery marches led by Martin Luther King Jr. is quite shocking. But it happened, and Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal try to tell the story as real as possible.
The brutal realism and incredible tension that Detroit builds in its second act is the big standout set-piece of the film. It keeps one completely on-the-edge-of-their-seats, while still blowing you away with how horrible things get at every moment. The performances from most of the cast, particularly Poulter, Smith and Boyega are detailed and naturally emotional, whether it be sadness, anger, relief, or shattering fear.
Barry Ackroyd’s handheld cinematography helps overlay the film with that documentary feel that’s necessary for how real Bigelow wants to make everything. The whip zooms and jagged framing of scenes puts you right in the moment and mostly never lets you go.
The movie does struggle with its 143-minute runtime, which might not be that long for most other films, but Detroit does feel bloated once the motel scenes are over. After the court proceedings and families in grief, there were several points where the movie could end but just didn’t. It wants to show you everything possible, but we only need to see a certain amount in order to really feel the full weight of this story.
Kathryn Bigelow is a fantastic director, but Detroit highlights a problem her last few films have had. They show you so much, but there are times when reality becomes implausible. Detroit does admit to constructing a few things due to lack of existing evidence, but you can still see what’s real and what’s not. There are brilliant performances on display, Bigelow is a fantastic storyteller in the right moments, Boal’s screenplay is thought-provoking, and it makes for a solid film. It’s heavy, it’s deep, it’s frightfully timely and incisive, it feels long and certain actors feel overshadowed, but Detroit is sure to make an impression for anyone.