Kathryn Bigelow’s return to cinemas couldn’t be more tragically timely. Just over a week after the horrifying Nazi rally in Charlottesville, the racism deep at the roots of the American psyche has been thrust into the international spotlight once again, and it’s this bigotry that Bigelow tackles with the blistering Detroit.
Centred around one harrowing 1967 night at the Algiers Motel during the Detroit riots, as the white police brutalise seven black men and two white women, Bigelow’s chaotically visceral style melds with Mark Boal’s taut script for an exercise in exhausting tension. As the intensity ratchets up, lives are taken in sickening, infuriating ways, with the injustices more potent for how little has changed in the 50 years since.
Performances are excellent across the board. John Boyega hides a burning rage behind stoicism as Melvin Dismukes, a security guard caught in the middle of the confrontation, his uniform forcing him to queasily side with the police, led by Will Poulter’s monstrous Krauss. Poulter’s babyish features and tall frame lend him a uniquely imposing presence, and he finds something in his voice that fills any room he’s in.
Relative newcomer Algee Smith ends up as the lead (Boyega’s presence is less than advertised), and is sensational as Larry Reed, the frontman in Motown band The Dramatics, trapped at the Motel after the riots stop his bus from getting him home.
Detroit takes a while to get going, with the scene-setting in the first act going on too long, but once we reach the Motel siege it’s edge-of-your-seat stuff until the final moments. It’s a tough watch, and catharsis is only delivered in tiny, occasional batches, always tempered with anxiety, but Detroit is a vital, exhilarating, and terrifying snapshot of a history that remains all too relevant.
CAST: John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, John Krasinski, Anthony Mackie, Jacob Latimore, Jason Mitchell, Hannah Murray, Jack Reynor, Kaitlyn Dever, Ben O’Toole
DIRECTOR: Kathryn Bigelow
WRITER: Mark Boal
SYNOPSIS: Amidst the chaos of the Detroit Rebellion, with the city under curfew and as the Michigan National Guard patrol the streets, three young African American men are murdered at the Algiers Motel.