Detroit is based on the true events that occurred in 1967 in the city of Detroit during racially fueled and violent rioting. The film does a nice job setting up the true circumstances that caused the riots to erupt in ’67. African Americans in Detroit were dealing with limited opportunity for advancement, forced into underfunded districts, and were dealing with a largely white police force that had major problems with corruption and racism. The movie opens on a police bust of an unlicensed bar in the black community. The arrests from the operation occur in public and the witnesses to the arrest react by looting and vandalizing store fronts. This was a smart and important place to start the story as it communicates to the audience how angry the black people of Detroit were at the police and their circumstances which show us how this was a rebellion just waiting to happen based on the years of systemic and outright racism endured.
The story is centered around a group of young black men and two white women who seek refuge from the chaotic action happening in streets by staying at the Algiers Motel for the night and the subsequent raid by police and armed forces that follow. The movie is a culmination of three major storylines that all converge at the motel. The first major event of the plot revolves around a racist police officer, Krauss (Will Poulter), who is guided by his skewed outlook on policing and the criticisms he holds for the department’s lack of violent force in managing the riot. The morning of the Algiers Motel incident, Krauss is on patrol when he guns down a young black man who looted a grocery store. Another main arch follows a young and talented black singer named Larry and his best friend/manager, Fred. Larry (Algee Smith) is about to get his first major break when the riot outside the building prevents him from singing and he and Fred end up at the Algiers for the night. The final major story arch focuses on Dismukes (John Boyega). He is a hard working black man who holds two jobs and who is morally superior to all other authorities portrayed in the movie. He is looped into the Algiers incident while working store security across from a squad of National Guard troops who get fired upon by an unknown shooter.
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, Detroit pulls no punches and does not attempt to polish, cover, or omit any of the shameful behaviors and actions of the Detroit Police and armed forces involved in the incident. She executed this project with the same gutsy tone and authentic vision that she brought to The Hurt Locker, but Detroit didn’t seem to deliver the same level of impact as The Hurt Locker did. Maybe I felt this way due to the lengthy runtime of over two hours and twenty minutes or maybe it’s the fact that Detroit concludes with a finite conclusion and The Hurt locker is open-ended? Regardless, this latest effort from Bigelow is more than admirable, but not quite as impressive as her earlier film.
What I felt the movie did best was depict how inept the police force was at managing the product of systemic racism known in all black inner-city communities. This was extremely significant as it speaks to the little progress America has made in this regard made evident by the slew of recent racially motivated violence, rioting, and protesting seen reported everyone in the media over the last year. Detroit highlights how little oversight patrolmen had from superior officers, how easily officers could frame people for major crimes, and how even good and just people in uniform were too afraid to stop the corrupt behavior of racists they witnessed. In short, the movie points out how much damage individuals with power, weapons, and authority can do to innocent people.
While I can’t say enough about how much I appreciated the courageous storytelling, superior acting, and effort to adhere to true history, I wouldn’t say that I loved the movie. Don’t misunderstand. Detroit is a really good movie, but it was not an easy movie to watch and it does get uncomfortable to digest at times. This is probably intentional and worth tolerating if the viewer is prepared to be exposed to some very ugly truths about American history and hopefully gain some sympathy, understanding, and possibly even be inspired to take up a cause for social progress. I would recommend this movie to anyone, but with a warning that Detroit is not suited for a casual viewing and that the content is not going to be easy to palate for everyone. I did enjoy the movie, especially the acting, but it will be a long time before I revisit this flick. I would say if you are interested in American history, inner city policing, the black community in America, or movies based on true events; Detroit is a movie you should definitely consider seeing in theaters.
Reel Talk gives Detroit 3 Reels