Film Review: DETROIT (USA 2017) ****

detroit.jpgAmidst the chaos of the Detroit Rebellion, with the city under curfew and as the Michigan National Guard patrolled the streets, three young African American men were murdered at the Algiers Motel.

Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Writer: Mark Boal
Stars: John Boyega, Anthony Mackie, Algee Smith

Kathryn Bigelow also known as that rare female action director has never failed to impress. Her breakout movie NEAR DARK was a genre bending vampire western only because she could not get funds to make a western which was the reason vampires were brought in. She beat her ex-husband James Cameron for the Oscar for Best Picture THE HURT LOCKER over AVATAR and many of her box-office flops (BLUE STEEL, STRANGE DAYS) have been hailed as minor classics. Now, audiences will see Bigelow, a white female make an angry pro- black riot movie.

DETROIT is a period police crime drama based on the Algiers Motel incident during Detroit’s 1967 12th Street Riot. The film was released to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the event. The film begins with a brief history of riots as depicted by drawings before settling on the raiding of an after hours booze can, where the Blacks were arrested and hustled into police vans in the open. Director Bigelow convinces that these angry incidents are sufficient to incite the riots that lasted quite the few days including the incident at the Algiers Motel.

The film benefits from very strong performances, the best of these from 24-year old white British actor Will Poulter. Poulter who has proven his acting mettle in films like SON OF RAMBOW, THE REVENANT and THE MAZE RUNNER is outstanding as the racist angry cop that is guaranteed to anger audiences. John Boyega as the security guard is equally effective and Anthony Mackie is convincing as the soldier caught in the crossfire.

The end credits are quick to inform that the incidents depicted in the film are concocted and are of course, not fully true. But what an angry story writer Mark Boal has given his audiences. And masterfully executed by Bigelow, as if an African American directed the entire project.

Though good a movie as DETROIT is, some African Americans will complain that this film was made by a white or that the two lead actors John Boyega and Will Poulter are British. The same went with the straight rendering of the gay story PHILADELPHIA with a straight director and straight actors. Audiences should be just glad that these stories that need be told are told, no matter who tells them. But Smith’s character of Larry who refuses to sing in his group, believing that he should provide music for white folk to dance is not totally convincing. One flaw that does stand out is the cardboard (both black and white characters), either all bad or all good.

Still , Bigelow achieves her aim in creating one angry and absorbing movie, out of incidents based on true events. She must be commended for eliciting great performances from all her cast including the relative unknowns (particularly the two white girls beaten up at the Motel) s well as the effective creation of the60’s era complete with music by James Newton Howard.

DETROIT is the third successful collaboration between Bigelow and Mark Boal who also wrote and produced the film, after THE HURT LOCKER and ZERO DARK THIRTY. More to come from these two, hopefully.


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