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At The Movies

 

Detroit ★★★★

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Cast: Anthony Mackie, John Boyega, Algee Smith, Will Poulter, Jack Reynor, Ben O’Toole, Jacob Latimore, Hannah Murray, Kaitlyn Dever

Detroit is the latest addition to director Katherine Bigalow’s (‘The Hurt Locker’, ‘Zero Dark Thirty’) ever more impressive filmography list. The film focuses on events of a single night taking place at the Algiers Motel amidst the anarchy of the 1967 Detroit riots.
The film starts off with a police raid on an underground club in the middle of what is a predominantly African American community. The raid and ensuing mass arrests provoke a hostile response from the locals, a response that quickly grows from a small display of discontentment into a full-blown riot. This event would officially mark the beginning of the Detroit riots which would last for the next 5 days.
It is in this chaotic setting we are introduced to the principle characters who would end up converging at the infamous Algiers Motel.

First, we see Dismukes (John Boyega) getting ready to go to work as a security guard at the local convenience store. Dimukes attempts to walk a fine line in trying to keep his community and its residence safe by placating the white police and national guard patrolling the streets. This approach leaves him being mocked by the former, and derided by the latter. When shots are heard coming from the direction of the Algiers Motel, Dismukes is quick and eager to join the search for the shooter.
We are then introduced to the shy and soft-spoken Fred (Jacob Latimore) and his cocky and driven best friend Larry (Algee Smith). Larry is the front man of the Dramatics, a soul group that would go on to achieve fame in the years after the events of the film. The Dramatics were scheduled to perform on stage, but at the last moment their show is cancelled due to the threat posed by the riots raging outside the theatre walls.
In the face of the growing violence between the police and rioters on the streets, Larry and Fred decide to wait out the night inside and rent a room at the Algiers Motel.
And finally, we are introduced to what can be described as the antagonists/villains of the film. Flynn (Ben O’Toole), Demens (Jack Reynor) and their defacto leader Krauss (Will Poulter) are three young racist cops patrolling the streets of Detroit during the riots. Earlier in the day Krauss had already shot and killed a looter, and after avoiding punishment he is back on the streets. When shots are reported at the Algiers Motel, Krauss and his goons join the national guard in the search for the shooter. The violence, torture and murder of three innocent young
men to follow would be instigated and led by Krauss.

The whole horrific scenario that unfolded at the Algiers Motel began with a badly thought-out prank. One of the rooms is being rented by a group of young friends who are just hanging out. After expressing his frustration and anger at the violent mistreatment and bigotry that the black community has experienced at the hands of the Detroit police force one of the young men, Carl (Jason Mitchell), decides to give them a taste of what it feels like to be in his
shoes.

In a display of poor judgement Carl uses his harmless starter pistol to fire blanks out the window in the direction of a group of national guardsmen who set up a checkpoint nearby.
Already on edge after reports of snipers in the Detroit area, the guardsmen rush to the scene with Dismukes along for the ride. Kraus, Flynn and Demens arrive at the motel not long after. After firing a barrage of shots and raiding the motel the police and national guard round up the residents. They haven’t found the gun, and will now use inhumane tactics in order to find the shooter. They look to Krauss to take the lead.
What follows is a torrent of verbal abuse, physical and psychological torture and cold-blooded murder of three young black men at the hands of racist cops.
If someone came into the theatre in the middle of the film they could be forgiven for thinking they were watching a psychological thriller/horror film in the vein of ‘Funny Games’ or more recently ‘Green Room’, and not a story based on true events. The horror that takes place inside the Algiers Motel is in your face, the camera does not shy away from showing the gruesome details. The savagery depicted in these scenes is not easy to look at and credit must
be given to the filmmakers for creating such an uncomfortably oppressive and claustrophobic atmosphere. If their intention was to make the audience feel a tiny bit of what the actual victims felt at the time, then their efforts were successful.
The entire film is shot hand-held and made to look like it was done on a Super 16mm camera. Usually I am not a fan of shaky-cam but in this film, it felt appropriate. The scenes are often intercut with actual news footage of the riots and because of the look of the film and the way it was shot, the two blend well together. This gives Detroit a realistic documentary style look and makes it all the more visceral to watch.
I won’t spoil the film entirely but will say that since the film is based on real events do not expect to see a satisfying resolution.
The acting here is top notch on everyone’s part. Algee Smith is a talented singer and performer and he portrays the struggles that Algee goes through post the events at the Algiers Motel with believable sincerity. For his part Will Poulter as Krauss does an excellent job of making the audience hate him. He does not simply play a racist cop, but a racist cop who is convinced that his methods of violence and intimidation are a necessary tool of law enforcement. Overall, it’s hard to single out specific actors as there is no one protagonist or antagonist. Instead the film focuses on a number of people whose lives were forever changed as a result of what they went through. This sort of wide focus on characters adds to the films documentary style feel.
This is a hard film to watch, but worth it. It might drag on a bit in parts but overall this is a must watch for anyone interested in the history of American race relations.

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