Intense: Detroit (2017)

detroit poster

Here be spoilers:

This has to be one of the hardest reviews I have ever had to write.  Seeing Detroit I knew that we were going to be witnessing an intense movie.  I had already seen Katherine Bigelow’s two other major films, The Hurt Locker, and Zero Dark Thirty (not to mention my appreciation for Point Break) so I sort of knew what to expect in terms of cinematography and story (written by Mark Boal, her collaborator on the two previous movies), but I do not think that anyone in the theater was ready for such an emotionally driven and hard-to-watch movie.

Let me come clean: I was born and grew up in Grosse Pointe, MI, which is a suburb located literally on the border with Detroit.  Growing up, I remember the stark contrast between crossing Jefferson and Alter Rd going into the city: On one side was nice suburban homes with manicured lawns, and the other side was bombed out houses, abandoned cars, and overgrown weeds.  Its not surprising that the nickname of the border was called “The Berlin Wall”.  Now, we were one of the few families that regularly ventured into Detroit.  Most families who had kids my age growing up, would only allow a trip to Detroit to go to a Red Wings or Tigers game, and even that would only happen once a year.  The 1967 Riot (or Rebellion or Rising, as some have taken to calling it)  always loomed large in the collective memory, even though these trips to Detroit had happened nearly 30 years later.  Now, to say that Detroit’s problems could be pinned on the Riot is historically inaccurate, and the movie does not go into the problems that Detroit had Post-Riot (such as the election of Coleman Young, the race of White Flight to the suburbs, the devastation of Crack Cocaine) but it does an incredible job of telling this story that unfortunately still remains relevant today.

The movie opens with the cops raiding a blind pig, an after hours speakeasy, and arresting the party-goers.  Having enough of the racist actions committed by the police, the black community in Detroit starts to loot, riot, and snipe people.  The National Guard is called in and life in Detroit is put on-hold for the time being.  An effective scene of the obliviousness of Whites in Detroit and the awareness of Black people is when a Motown revue at the Fox Theatre is cancelled and evacuated while the song Nowhere to Run is being performed by Martha and the Vandellas.  Into this story comes the main players, John Boyega as private security guard Dismukes; Will Poulter (in a scary and incredible performance) as racist cop Krauss, and Algee Smith and Jacob Lattimore as Larry and Freddy, two performers in a band called The Dramatics.  Added to the players at the hotel are a gang of kids, a black Vietnam Vet named Green (Anthony Mackie), and two young white women, Julie and Karen (Hannah Murray and Kaitlyn Dever). Each of these people through various ways descend upon the Algiers Hotel; and when the cops and national guard show-up, the story takes a hellish turn.

The interrogation scene at the Algiers which make up the majority of the movie is one of the most intense and uncomfortable scenes I’ve ever seen committed in a movie.   It honestly reminded me like something out of the Michael Haeneke movie, Funny Games.  Bigelow’s constantly moving camera and the sounds of the characters as they are brutally beaten creates a slow-burn of tension.  The fact that the viewer only sees a few of the beatings, Bigelow cuts the camera away when a person is hit or shot, makes the suspense even more harrowing. You can see the tension escalate from when the cops arrive to when they discover Karen and Julie in the room of Green, where they are playing cards.  That two young pretty white women would be in a room with a black man playing cards sends these racist white officers over the edge.  Compounding this is the absolute uselessness of Dismukes, the violence-addicted Krauss, and the helplessness of the civilians Freddy, Green, Larry, Karen, and Julie.   I will not say what happens, suffice it to say be forewarned about this particular scene in the movie.

Unfortunately, we all know how this story ends.  The racist cops are acquitted, and the victims have to pick up the pieces.  And this is what makes Detroit powerful: the fact that while this event happened fifty years ago, it still is happening today.  Imagine people like Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, and others in our society and compare it to this movie.  While others will disagree with me, I hope that people can put themselves into other people’s shoes and see the movie for what it is: a terrible event in American History that shows how far we still have to go in terms of racial equality.

Fun Facts: The soundtrack to this movie is absolutely killer.  And its nice to see John Krasinski as an jerk lawyer.  The movie also does a good job of balancing out its racist cop characters with good police officers who try to do the right thing, but sadly its always too late.

Final Review: 9 out of 10.

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