One of the most horrific acts of police brutality is portrayed in “Detroit,” the latest film from Academy Award winning director Kathryn Bigelow.
The film brings audiences into the city of Detroit in 1967, when a massive race riot took place. As the unrest heightened, more law enforcement and even the National Guard were called in to restore order. As this takes place, viewers are introduced to a number of characters, including a security guard, Dismukes (John Boyega), a Detroit police officer, Krauss (Will Poulter) and a singer who gets caught up in the riots named Larry (Algee Smith).
Once the characters are introduced, they all converge at the Algiers Motel. There, because officers heard gun shots, a squad of police led by Krauss enter the hotel and torture the occupants staying there in an attempt to find out who did the ‘shooting.’ The actions by the officers eventually leads to three men dying and the film then showcases the following legal proceedings.
The second act of “Detroit” is one of the tensest pieces of filmmaking put on screen in a long time. Some have compared the sequences at the Algiers Motel to be that of a horror movie, and it’s easy to understand why. The lead characters have no safety and can’t get away, the police officers have no issue with using brutal methods and Dismukes, who’s disgusted by what’s going on, has to stay back gritting his teeth and not interfere to protect himself.
Bigelow doesn’t hold back in showing just how cruel the tactics police officers used. Like her other films, “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” the films are extremely well crafted, creating a very real dramatization which makes the experience quite immersive.
While the second act does provide an important, very real look at a terrible event of police brutality, though, the first and third acts of the film come off seeming a bit disjointed.
For example, the first act of the film is a full look at the riots taking place in Detroit and introduces the audience into a lot of what was going on. However, when the movie switches to the incident at the motel, it becomes hyper focused and the sense of scale and tone are much different. The audience also doesn’t get to see how the riots were resolved in the aftermath.
Then there’s the third act, which becomes very much a courtroom drama. This section, though, seems to go by a little too quickly, going through a years-long case in a matter of scenes, making the court proceedings almost seem like a blur.
In all fairness, the first and third acts are well made. The first, for example is brilliantly shot, showcasing just how much of a warzone Detroit looked like during the heights of the riots. The third, meanwhile, capture the emotion and heartache of African Americans who received no justice for what happened at the motel in the court proceedings.
Credit also has to go to the performances. Poulter, for example, is menacing and frightening. Every time he’s on screen, the viewer is automatically put on edge. Boyega, meanwhile, was great in that he had to mainly emote through his facial expressions and mannerisms. His character doesn’t have as much dialogue since he’s trying to remain ‘neutral’ in the situation, but it’s easy to see he’s disturbed and is doing mental clockwork to see if there’s any way he can stop what’s happening.
“Detroit” overall is a good movie, but it does suffer because of the disconnection between the first and second acts and the fast pacing of the third. With all that said, the direction by Bigelow is wonderful, the acting is solid and the second act is worthy of praise for creating an intense look at police brutality that needed a spotlight. 3.8 out of 5.