|Page 1 of 12:||          |
|Index||117 reviews in total|
The poster of Annapurna's newest film, Detroit hangs at my local
theater like a provocation. A thin blue line of police officers
struggles to hold back angry black protesters as big bold letters are
scrawled along the side. The tagline reads: "It's time we knew." Those
words, along with the required "from the creators of..." accolades are
the only things on the poster that aren't sideways.
They might as well be though, considering the 1967 Detroit riot is about the only thing about Detroit most Americans know. And I'm sad to report that while the film does a good job of filling the screen with a few powerful moments, it never provides much insight into the "untold" story of the Motor City or how its story fits into the larger context of modern racial relations.
After an awkward Jacob Lawrence inspired history of the Great Migration, the film captures the precipitating actions of police that turned the city's long sitting racial resentments into a lit tinderbox. In a hybrid of dramatization and archival footage, Detroit then glosses over the actions taken by the state to subdue tensions before setting its sights on a host of singular stories. It becomes high noon at the Algiers Motel where unarmed black teens face off against white police and National Guardsmen. Then comes the trial.
All of these events could have been their own movies and delved into deeper depths as to the cause, devastation, aftermath and public perception of what was later dubbed the black days of July. Yet because Mark Boal's screenplay is so laser-focused on documented events and momentary minutia, everything is squished into an off-kilter collage of well-meaning but superficial docudrama. One whose central story, the Algiers Motel incident, is treated more like a genre horror film than either a granular traumatic event or police brutality in microcosm.
Detroit basically pulls a Dunkirk (2017), building unbelievable tension while giving us the bear minimum in character. It's all about the situation and the situation only. The recreation of which is beyond reproach. However, Detroit's grand design creates a narrative dissonance. One in which the individual experiences of real people just don't translate all that well.
The problem is compounded further by Barry Ackroyd's unvarnished cinematography which cuts between extreme closeups of wounded faces, voyeuristic overheads and wide shots of crowds angrily gathering in the streets. The lack of establishing shots, aerials, use of recognizable landmarks etc. hammers home the idea that something like this can happen anywhere. But the question, why can it happen anywhere, remains illusive up until we here the words "police criminality should be treated the same as criminality." By then it's too little too late.
Luckily director Kathryn Bigelow is very adept at inserting humanity within the margins saving Detroit from being just another Patriot's Day (2016). She finds a particularly redemptive subject in Algee Smith as up-and-coming Motown singer Larry Reed. The young actor displays an emotional intelligence well beyond his years, formulating a character that starts out with youthful swagger, ends with a shaken core, putting you in his head-space at all points in-between. Additionally, while most of the films attempts to color opposing forces with shades of grey fall flat, Reed's arc feels tragic but sadly understandable given the circumstance.
Unfortunately for both Bigelow and the city of Detroit, Detroit's script casts too wide a net to be especially impacting. It's procedural approach stifles the emotional stakes and its over-arching theme is turned in with much less humanity and passion than is deserved. Even with a towering performance by Algee, and the inclusion of Will Poulter who plays menacing/in-over-his-head real well, Detroit just can't transcends its trappings. To add insult to injury, the film itself was shot primarily in Boston...so there's that...
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
How can a movie as confusing as this be considered Oscar material. This
is nothing like Bigelow's previous superb movies with its jumbled story
and outright fiction presented as "truth". The screenwriter admits to
"a self-imposed rule to never stray from what I understood to be the
underlying truth of a scene or an event". What he termed poetic
license, is nothing less than a license to lie. He also updated the
dialogue, to what, modern terminology or assumed modern attitudes?
Bigelow uses a broad brush dipped in the slime of three corrupt cops as an indirect implication projected 50 years later on today's police a la BLM hate. Just casting Will Poulter, who oozes bully/evil, as a cop, is pejorative. And yes the black victims deserved focus, but not to the point of marginalizing the massive violence, looting, vandalism, riots and murder. A major flaw was the fact that the victims stood up to the beatings and apparent/actual murder of some of them, rather than give up the dead moron in the parlor who had fired off a starter pistol in the middle of a riot. This is a canyon sized plot hole.
And in another piece of complete idiocy, one of the black singers is made to complain that Motown's music is just for white people. Ga! And yes it was an all white jury, but they found the black security guard to be innocent in like 8 minutes. But the white judge, who was later found to be personally corrupt, instructed the jury to either convict the cops on 1st degree murder (which was not the case), or render a not guilty verdict--2nd degree murder or manslaughter weren't options. Chalk another one up to the establishment, so of course none of that was mentioned.
What in the hell happened here? Was Bigelow found to have been too conservative in her previous efforts and forced to make a propaganda film, or is this her true self? Her emphasis can do nothing here but stir the rabble rousing pot which is already at the boiling point. So I guess yeah, it is Oscar material.
Detroit is the latest addition to Kathryn Bigelow's lengthy filmography
and it is the most Bigelow-esque film you'd come to expect from her.
The film displays raw realism with the actors looking very real and
naked from their famous personas. The story is jam packed and while I
think this source material would have made a much better miniseries,
Bigelow makes the story work with sacrificing some facts for the sake
of cinema. The big question is: is it as good as the critics say it is?
The answer: No. Not Close. But with that being said, it is a damn good
movie that is definitely worth seeing.
Telling the story of three murdered African American men in a motel in Detroit during the city's infamous riots and civil rights movement, Detroit stars an all star cast that is certainly better on paper than they are in this film. John Boyega, Will Poulter, Jason Mitchell, Anthony Mackie, John Krasinski, and on and on-but none of them are really served as a main character. Bigelow is so determined on telling the facts of the case that she sacrifices good performances in order to give us a slice of reality. The film plays out like the most expensive reenactment of a tragedy on Investigation Discovery and, when looking at the facts of the case, this is the best compliment I can give the film. It sounds back handed but it is extremely informative even if it is picking a side in all of it. The one thing Bigelow does best is showing a true story like it is unfolding in front of you. She does it brilliantly in The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, but Detroit is where it is to a fault.
With a 140-plus minute running time and a gaggle of characters to keep track of, the story is just too big for a feature film and requires patience. Despite this, Kathryn Bigelow does her best to tame Mark Boal's bloated script to a digestible film and the results are mostly good. The performances from the actors are real, raw and authentic in every aspect but never enough to burst off the screen. Bigelow lets the events unfold and do that for them. Overall, Detroit is certainly a good film in need of an audience just a very patient one.
Director Katheryn Bigelow does a wonderful job of creating a great deal
of tension. She does so by cutting from one tightly framed slightly
wobbly shot to the next. Each character's face floods nearly the entire
screen after each of these cuts. This makes the movie deeply personal
and almost claustrophobic at times. The slight wobbles of the camera as
it focuses on a face, adds to the uneasiness and unstable nature of the
What I'm saying is the movie is expertly directed. That's evident early on and remains that way throughout. The issue holding this movie back from becoming one of serious best picture caliber is the writing. The story felt a bit underdeveloped.
The brief on-screen text explanation of the tension between the Detroit Police and the city's black residents could have served as a helpful addition to a setup that followed in the movie. I would have had no problem with that. But after the movie plays for 20 minutes or so, I realized that the text was the sole source of setup.
That's a classic case of telling instead of showing. Movies are a video medium. Use that. Don't casually display the text on screen. This choice may have been made for the sake of time, but I think the filmmakers would have been wise to focus more on the setup aspect. The text explanation felt like an inconsiderate means of storytelling.
After the opening text, the movie meanders for a while, eventually introducing the key characters and providing an appetizer of their personalities, foreshadowing their upcoming behavior.
Moments like these showcased strengths in the writing. The writing did not completely ruin the movie; it simply was not an Oscar-contending performance, like Bigelow's work.
The movie overall is well made, thanks in large part to Bigelow's deft direction, but it's not without flaws. One that I already mentioned is that I wanted the actual movie (not solely text) to better set the stage of this city that's on the verge of riot.
The second criticism ties into the first. Because of the lack of stage setting, this becomes a movie that expertly depicts the what, but fails to fully deliver on the why.
I see the riots. I see the emotional toll that police misconduct had on the abused citizens. I see the guilt that certain uniformed personnel felt for standing by and allowing the abuse to take place. What I didn't see enough of is why all this happened. I wanted a more personal detailing of what led up to the night shown in the movie. The actions are clear and powerful, but the motivations are vague and weak.
I came away from the movie wondering what message the filmmakers hoped to convey. While the title is Detroit, the story has a much narrower focus. Were the clear majority of Detroit City Police Officers upstanding in their behavior, with only a few tragic bad apples? Given the choice focus on only a few officers and a select group of citizens, should I assume that these officers' misconduct was the norm or the exception?
Perhaps it was not the filmmakers' intent to answer these questions. Maybe they only wanted to tell this specific story, without greater implications, which is fine. I just personally wanted to see a broader depiction of the city's atmosphere leading up to, during, and following the riots.
I was really looking forward to this film as I am a big fan of Kathryn
Bigelow as she is one of the few people in Hollywood actually tackling
important topics but I walked out completely disappointed.
The mostly unknown actors were all exceptionally good and should have careers ahead of them. The Color grade, Casting, and lack of soundtrack was also very good. What was bad was the childish script which was filled with cartoonish stereotypes from every class, gender and color. I found myself cringing at how awful some of the dialogue was and the direction was pretty much a complete mess.
Anyone that is a fan of Bigelow's films knows that at some point she goes off on some tangent for 15 minutes but them usually rights the ship back on course. This entire film was off course from the opening 15 minutes which is just disarray (which I understand is part of the point) that goes on way too long and we learn nothing that drives the narrative along. The beatings were like seeing the equally awful Passion of the Christ... You get so desensitized by the constant beatings that you really don't care any more. The tacked on Penny Marshall-esque ending was filled with so much saccharine it could have induced a diabetic coma and did a complete injustice to The Dramatics. It was sad because I was really hoping for this to be an important film especially in the timeliness of this decade but instead it became a Lifetime Movie with over the top violence.
In the end I could have lived with the direction if there wasn't such a laughable script. How you take a topic like this and turn it into something that awful was truly amazing. Just present the story and you have a great film but instead you end up this disappointment
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Detroit is a movie that is based around the events of the Algiers Motel
Incident during the African American rebellion. During that incident, a
group of African American males and two white females are taken in as
victims who threatened police officers at the Algiers Motel. When the
incident unfolds, the men and women involved would have their lives
For what this movie is, it's fine. It's executed well enough even if it isn't completely historically accurate. It does have its intense moments, mainly towards the second act and the movie is very well acted. Algee Smith does a fantastic job with his character, Larry especially. Larry, admittedly is the main highlight of the movie for me. He is able to show so much through just his facial expressions and gestures, and I really admire Smith for executing that so well. There is a lot of political talk throughout this narrative. Some viewers may not understand all of it.
Either way, my main issue with the movie is that it feels like it drags on for too long. This movie is almost two and a half hours long, and I feel like the running time could've been reduced by about 15 minutes. I mean, the majority of the first act does do a good job at setting up the catalyst of the plot, but since this movie is about Detroit's Algiers Motel Incident rather than simply the fall of Detroit itself, I feel like there's a good chunk in the beginning that could've been taken out.
Even though Detroit feels like it drags on for too long, it's still a well acted and well written telling of a tragic event that took place in the city of Detroit. Sure, it could've been better, but it's at least a decent movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Historical Context Surrounding the 12th Street Riots is set Aside for the Brutality of the Moment in "Detroit."
"Detroit" could have been a powerful allegory for police violence against African Americans using 1967 Detroit as a real life example of how police abuse minorities to protect white privilege. Instead, "Detroit" is an over-indulgent orgy of violence that barely addresses the historical context in which the riots arose.
The precipitating event for the Detroit riots of 1967 was the violent police raid on an unlicensed bar. The film reenacts this raid and shows the police overreacting and abusing the black revelers. The violence escalates and riots ensue. This is true to accounts of the time, however, the focus on that one event gives short shrift to the years of abuse blacks faced at the hands of a 97% majority white police department in a city that was 40% black in 1967.
By not giving enough historical context to police abuses and degradation of the black populations, the film works in a vacuum where a few police go rogue and the blacks should have just cooperated more. In fact, it was a whole system dominated by whites that allowed this abuse to occur by participating in, encouraging or ignoring the abuse.
The deeper, long-term causes of the riots barely appear in the film. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, "The deeper causes of the riot were high levels of frustration, resentment, and anger that had been created among African Americans by unemployment and underemployment, persistent and extreme poverty, racism and racial segregation, police brutality, and lack of economic and educational opportunities."
There was a brief mention of the white flight and the loss of industry in Detroit at the beginning of the film, but nothing about unemployment, a history of racism by the police, or racial segregation.
The plot doesn't stand scrutiny. There was a storyline about a gun, and the police who assumed that they were fired upon. The police used suspicion of violence coming from the Algiers based on flimsy information as an excuse to enter the hotel in Detroit and abuse its occupants. When those detainees were questioned by the racist police officers, none of them came forward with information about the gun that would have exonerated them. Their silence was illogical in the extreme, and the script makes no attempt to explain why they didn't mention the gun.
The nine black men (two who were later killed) and two white women who were detained could have also laid the blame on a man that had been earlier shot and was dead. Why they didn't do that is another mystery. Is this true to history? I found no information supporting this account of events.
What the film does discuss at the beginning is the Great Migration to the north of African American to Detroit after WWI. However, not enough emphasis was put on how that demographic change lead to an economic downturn of the city due to the money moving to the suburbs and the loss of jobs to other regions of the country.
"Detroit" uses historical footage and a cinéma vérité style reenactments. The mixture works seamlessly throughout the film. Too bad the writing didn't create a more coherent picture of the time period. Statistics of unemployment, arrests of African Americans, a rising black prison population, would have helped create the setting in which the riots occurred.
The film fails to show how the riots were a watershed moment in the history of Detroit, how everything afterward became worse economically for the city and where that left the city today. Near the end of the film, "Detroit" goes from civil rights drama to procedural drama and completely loses its way. Certainly, presenting what happened to the three white officers charged with murder was worthwhile, but that could have been done in a paragraph as an epilogue.
The film was way too long. Some of the elements distracted from the story of the collapse of a modern American city and harm it caused the inhabitants and some of it was played out too long after the point was made. The detention scene in the Algiers Hotel could have been half the length once the point was made about police brutality and racism. I wouldn't call it "torture porn" as other critics have, I would call it bad storytelling. Moreover, the court scene at the end could have been cut entirely.
Rating: Rental There is some great acting in the film. Too bad the directing and writing don't support the performances to make a film worthy of the theme.
Unless you believe the Black Lives Matters movement has unanimous
appeal, do not expect the reviews of Kathryn Bigelow's "Detroit" to
garner universal praise. By no means does this movie play it safe and,
for that reason, it does not seek or expect mass appeal. I suspect that
the film will unleash fierce critics of "Hollywood Liberal Bias" and
generate howls from those who want to remind us that most cops really
are good as well as others who are equally vocal and can't stomach
seeing more non-threatening citizens brutally murdered by policemen of
a different stripe.
"Detroit" is a movie that is set in 1967 but it is a statement about the type of policing that continues to occur far too frequently in many African American communities. Just as it is not possible to talk about the recent events in Ferguson, NYC, Minneapolis,Baltimore, Chicago, Charleston, Cleveland etc., etc. without expressing a particular point of view, "Detroit" will also reveal many pf our biases as we process the portrayal of the searing events as they may have occurred at the Algiers Motel in the midst of a race riot.
"Detroit" will also force us to talk about our preferences for films that move and disturb us over those that simply entertain and the amount of "historical accuracy" we expect to see in non- documentaries that are set in earlier times.
Bigelow shoots the movie with an unflinching eye and her point of view is obvious. She errs on the side of the cringe worthy and outrageous when depicting evil and the actors are committed, inspired and superbly directed.
"Detroit" is a film that is as difficult to watch as any two hour merciless tragedy involving people we know and care about and it is deeply stirring as it incites (if not assaults) our emotions. This is a stunning film but well crafted art, like our own reflections in the finest of mirrors, isn't always pretty.
"Detroit" intends to upset, provoke and unsettle and, by that account, it is an unmitigated success.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I don't criticize the movie on PC or 'racial' grounds, but, on how it
works - doesn't - on screen. Unfortunately, the backlast TO the
backlash paints just about anybody who doesn't like DETROIT as being
PC. I strongly support Bigelow and Boal's 'right' to make any movie
they want, but, it's also a person's right to disapprove and not have
one's motives questioned. My full take:
Director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal's THE HURT LOCKER and ZERO DARK THIRTY are two of best movies of the millennium. Because of that, it is doubly difficult to write that their current effort, DETROIT is such a disappointment.
The movie takes place during the Detroit riots of July 1967. It begins with a wider overview of the situation, complete with archival news reports, photos and audio.* Interspersed are a few on the ground perspectives of various characters. It's not terribly involving, but not bad. Some of these characters begin to gather in and around a motel. At that point, it becomes clear that the events at that motel will become the centerpiece of the movie.
Those events became known as the infamous and horrific Algiers Motel Incident, complete with a contemporaneous best-selling book of that name by John Hersey. It is here where the movie failings emerge. If there is one thing that the various witnesses can agree on - is that there are few things they can agree on. In addition to the book, there were several investigations, court cases and a myriad of stories written and recorded over the four decades since. Bigelow and Boal said they did not use the book when making DETROIT.
However, the movie-makers made the decision to depict a single narrative viewpoint as if it were "the truth". While the incident may not have exactly been a Rashomon situation, it was certainly a chaotic one where no one person was witness to each and every event that happened along the way. That is Bigelow and Boal's artistic decision. But, it becomes disastrous if not downright distateful on screen. For, despite fine performances and strong production values, the sequence never quite rings true. It seems Written. Directed. Coerced. Co-Opted. Manufactured. It's a 'true story' that feels false. Without truth. Without insight. The brutality and inhumanity is so unremitting that it takes on the feel of an exploitation movie. I fully understand that exploitation was the last thing on Bigelow and Boal's mind, but the screen does not lie. Yes, these incidents did happen, but did we need to see all the blood,bruising and nudity? It further complicates things that DETROIT's narrative of the events is contradicted by much of the sworn testimony of the witnesses - both at the time and subsequently**. Again, Bigelow and Boal's artistic perogative, but to what end if not to further belief in the portrayal of events??
DETROIT's last act is a long protracted court-room drama. It's supposed to bring context and some closure to the events, but, like the bulk of the movie it feels wholly unsatisfactory and unfullfilling. Whenever a 'true story' about barbarous events is brought to the screen by such a clearly talented cast and crew the term "powerful" is often used (indeed, there were several audible gasps in the screening I attended). But, a production can be both "powerful" and "empty". DETROIT, unfortunately, ends up on the lower end of that scale.
* Kudos to Bigelow for preserving the proper aspect ratio for the vintage footage
** Without getting into spoilers, I will just mention a relatively minor example. The musical band portrayed in the movie, The Dramatics, are depicted as newbies who are seeking a first break. In actuality, they had been together for four years and even been a recording act for at least two years Prior to the events in DETROIT. I don't criticize Boal & Bigelow's movie because of a few fudged facts, but, because it undercuts the drama even further, making it feel false.
The city of Detroit is in a tough position. It was once a vast
metropolis with several factories calling it home, making it a mecca
for families looking for a quality and a safe security. Things changed
when many of those car factories either closed or moved, turning a vast
city into a ghost town. It's still standing and has plenty of people,
but it now exists as a shadow of its own empire. Politicians and
companies are in the middle of getting back a state of industry, so who
knows what the future holds. It holds a lot of history, both good and
In the late 1960's, race relations were at the brink of an explosion as African-Americans were crippled by poor living conditions in cities and were being provided little help from the government. While white Americans were enjoying a better life in the suburbs, the cities continued to unofficially segregate blacks into the urban environments. This anger eventually erupted in a series of riots that provided fuel for the media on the troubling issues for African Americans. Though each city riot had their fair share of casualties and damage, the one in Detroit was said to be the worst. It has been recreated in the Kathryn Bigelow film, Detroit.
On the July 23, 1967, an unlicensed club was raided upon and shut the party down. This triggered a mob to start throwing rocks at police cars and they would later loot and set fire to various buildings. This was considered the start of the Detroit City riots. The second day is more of the same, except officer Phillip Krauss (played by Will Poulter) guns down an unarmed looter. Though he's told he'll be investigated on possible murder charges, he's not taken off the force. The riots become so violent that the governor approves the National Guard and the Army to provide help.
On the third day, the Dramatics, an R&B group's performance is canceled when the riots come close to the theater. They try to leave the city, but lead singer Larry Reed (played by Algee Smith) gets separated and makes it to the Algiers Motel, hoping things will cool down the next day.
A prank goes bad when a blank gunshot is confused for a sniper attack, causing the police to arrive quickly to find the shooter. Officer Krauss leads everyone down, including two white girls, a recent Vietnam veteran Lou, and Larry Reed for brutality-like interrogation. Though security guard Melvin Dismukes (played by John Boyega) is there to witnesses it, he watches as he tries to ensure everyone will leave alive.
Taking an entire city based riot and putting it into one film cannot be an easy task, but Kathryn Bigelow developed Detroit into a magnificent, very tense look into events that identifies a lot of problems that are not only historically significant, but could be examined in a modern subtext. I love how the story is set around the tragedy of the Algiers Motel incident, which could be seen as the heart of the darkness.
The script is great, the direction is great, the pacing is great, and the acting is all great. Every single person is the right choice for their character, especially to the big three, Will Poulter, John Boyega, and Algee Smith. Their performances had my eyes straight ahead to the screen as I was always curious to see what happens. I felt every emotion go through my body as I succumbed to the events projected, dragging me into the riots and of Detroit.
I'll give this ten Dramatic albums out of ten. I can say that Detroit is a frontrunner for the Oscars in a lot of categories. Is it better then Dunkirk? Hmm that's hard to say as despite both movies portraying major events, they feel different, which should say a lot about the importance of film as an art. We'll just have to wait for the end of the year to find out where it places on my scale. I can say that this is an engaging movie that completely sucks you into the madness. Detroit will continue to survive, though movies like this need to be seen to understand its darker moments, so don't miss it.
|Page 1 of 12:||          |
|Plot summary||Plot synopsis||Ratings|
|Awards||External reviews||Official site|
|Plot keywords||Main details||Your user reviews|
|Your vote history|