Honestly, has much changed? NOPE.
It’s the summer of 1967 and in Detroit, there’s all sorts of tension boiling up, to go along with the non-stop heat, rioting and civil unrest. It’s starting to tear apart the seat which has every person, white or black, on the edge of their toes, not knowing what to do next, or just how to get out of this awful situation alive. The cops are constantly having to fight huge crowds and yes, the huge crowds themselves, who are predominately black, are tired of being discriminated against and they’re not going to take it anymore. But while this is all happening, somewhere outside of where all the action’s taking lace, there’s a report of gunshots that the Detroit Police Department, the Michigan State Police and the Michigan Army National Guard decide to investigate. Eventually, they are drawn to the Algiers Motel, where they search the whole joint, looking for guns, or any sorts of weapons of any kind. Seemingly coming up empty and pissed-off, several policemen start to torture and interrogate the many suspects they have in their possession. In other words, it’s not a nice situation to be in and guess what? It’s not going to get any better.
Detroit‘s marketing has smartly been revolving around the fact that it’s about the Detroit Race Riots, all of the shots, explosions, fights, brawls, and havoc that we expect with these kinds of movies. After all, it’s a movie from Kathryn Bigelow who, especially as of late, is known for her super big, bright, loud, and ambitious projects, and hell, it’s even titled “Detroit”, as if it was going to be all about the riot and not much else. And yes, even for awhile, it seems like that; we get to see the beginning of the riots, acquainted with a few characters, and even get a sense of when and where everything is happening. It’s all scattershot and a little meandering, but of course, that’s the point.
Because really, Detroit is about this one horrific moment in the middle of all other horrific moments that, needless to say, would tell us everything about what got people so pissed-off in the first place.
And hell, why they’re still so pissed-off now.
But like I said, once Bigelow gets to this infamous moment, all 55 minutes of it, the movie grabs ahold and does not let go for a single second. It’s brutal, it’s disturbing, it’s uncomfortable, it’s mean, and yeah, it’s all too real to look away from; it’s the kind of unrelenting and gritty sequence we’d get in something like a Michael Haneke film, where it’s so hard-to-watch, we can’t look away. And in Detroit‘s case, that’s a positive – it helps put us right there, with everyone, feeling the same paranoia and anguish that was felt for all parties involved, most importantly, the victims.
It’s also where Bigelow’s directing really works best, as it tells us everything we need to know, but without really hitting us over-the-head. Mark Boal’s screenplay helps us in that regard, too, because he understands that while most people know about race-relations and police-corruption within the United States, he also gets the sense that stories such as this need to be re-told. In a day and age where anyone, literally anyone, can get pulled over by a cop and wind-up dead, for no real reason at all, then yes, movies like Detroit matter and deserve to be made, seen, and spread across all countries, not just America.
But by the same token, the movie does run into its fair share of problems.
For instance, when the sequence is over, the movie really doesn’t have anywhere else to go. Of course, it turns into a courtroom drama, where all the surviving parties duke it out in a supposedly fair trial, but honestly, by that point, we’re already so winded, it’s hard to really keep up with everything. We, the viewers, just went through a near-hour of hell and now, we’re expected to sit around and chill out, watching as more injustices get committed and more corruption gets swept under the rug? It’s a lot to ask for and really, it depends on how you’re feeling.
Me, I was fine with it, but for different reasons. By this point, it’s less about the injustices, and more about the physical and mental scares left on these many individuals who were victimized in this one situation. No matter what happens, no matter where they go, no matter what they do, they will always remember this situation, how it turned out so damn awful, and how it never even needed to get to that point, but did, because of racism.
Plain and simple.
And that, to me, is the hardest pill to swallow here and why, despite its faults, Detroit is a compelling watch. It doesn’t get everything right – even some of the performances from a relatively solid ensemble can be a little weak and hammy – but at the end of the day, it’s about a grave injustice that should have never happened in the first place and should have immediately been stopped. Come to think of it, they still could and yet, for some odd reason, they aren’t.
Why, people? Why!
Consensus: Even with the structure-problems, Detroit still works as a hard-hitting and absolutely disturbing take on race-relations, power, corruption, and violence in America that, despite being set 50 years ago, is still awfully relevant today. Go figure.
8 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz