This review was written by Anthony J Digioia. Follow him and his website here for more awesome reviews: SilverScreen Analysis
“Detroit” stars; John Boyega, Will Poulter, Jacob Latimore, Jason Mitchell, Algee Smith, Anthony Mackie, Hannah Murray and Kaitlyn Dever. This story follows the events that took place on the night of July 25, 1967 in Detroit Michigan when three African-American men were killed, and others severely beaten at the Algiers Motel. An incident that occurred during the racially fueled 12th Street Riots.
This wasn’t a movie to necessarily be excited for. It was surely going to depict some of the traumatizing moments that came from this real-life event. Kathryn Bigelow has shown when she has a topic for a film selected, she crafts a gritty, realistic, and unrelenting movie to capture it. So, for that aspect this was a film that I did anticipate, despite knowing it would be a tough one to sit through. But regardless of how uncomfortable the film was likely to be, it is still a movie that should be watched, digested, and stitched into your mind as something that took place purely out of racism. Racism captured in this film that was set in the 60’s, yet does not feel too different than the world we live in today. Something that creates even more of an emotionally charged impact as you watch.
A film covering this subject matter would need to be in the right hands and there was no denying that it was. Kathryn Bigelow was a great choice among the candidates to direct and the cast was, in my opinion perfectly selected with all bringing in amazing performances. None of them took center stage and this ensemble cast all captured their roles perfectly. They all fit together to make one solid unit of performers that were without a doubt, able to capture the tragic events of that night with a stunning realism. Capturing a realism that will break your heart, give you the chills, and pull you through a wave of deeply rooted emotional intensity.
Watching these performances, I found myself sitting in my seat completely still. Taking in what I was watching. Compelled from the gripping scenarios that unfold during the long run-time. John Boyega was excellent in capturing his role as a man that was often put in tough positions. Jacob Latimore and Algee Smith were also perfect in their roles. Without a doubt selling their friendship. Jason Mitchell and Anthony Mackie provide some strong performances as well. Both delivering the needed emotional tones the story asked of them, and both leaving an imprint on the film overall.
Will Poulter was also extremely riveting in this role. He was put in the tough position of having to capture and portray a vile individual, and he pulls it off. Poulter delivers the dialogue very naturally and never felt like he was over-acting for added dramatic impact. He poured himself into this persona and conveyed it exactly how the story needed him to. Something that was aided with strong natural dialogue that never felt like it was over embellishing anything simply for the sake of the movies entertainment.
The writing all around was extremely well done. The conversations and interactions between the various characters in this story felt natural. They felt fitting to the time-period showing effort in trying to keep things as true to the actual events as possible. The story was well organized overall but it did feel slightly erratic early on. The story felt like it was bouncing around from one area to another during the first-act. But as the second-act kicks in and the focus tightens in on the Algiers Hotel, you can see that the different areas the story covered initially, were for a reason.
It was able to build the foundations of the social climate that was going on at the time. It effectively captured the impact government and local law enforcement had on the times. As well as conveying the emotional impact this was having on the African-American community. The uneasiness that loomed all around was subtly captured early on so as the film locked in on the events that took place at the Algiers, as a viewer you are well aware of all the ramifications.
Which builds natural tension and flat-out uneasiness as the story trudges its way through the events with detail and pacing that resulted in cinematic brilliance. But at the same time, was heart-breaking from an aspect of humanity, and a lack of human decency. The story captures how with some minor oversight, and no one wanting to overstep their boundaries, that these officers would be allowed to do something like this. I think the structure to the script conveyed this extremely well with it feeling like a true reenactment, and not a dramatization.
The camera-work and Bigelow’s overall direction were very well done. The handheld camera techniques pull you into the settings and situations in a very up-close and intimate way that give the films overall tone a harsh realism. The pace almost feels like it plays out minute-by-minute once the incident at the Algiers begins and while it comes across as drawn out, it almost feels intentional. As if it was trying to capture the hours of torment the victims went through over the course of the night. It feels like the scenes get repetitive, but it keeps the feeling of uneasiness at a high as it progresses slowly through the night. Which in my opinion, connects you with the characters on a deeply emotional level.
In the end “Detroit” is not a film to watch for entertainment. It is something to watch because of its importance and its social relevance. It was well-crafted showing high levels of effort in many facets. Bigelow, the entire cast, and the writing create and emotionally gripping film that I would say has Oscar potential. It is getting a limited release very soon. It may or may not hit your city but I do recommend checking it out if you can. It was compelling. It will wear on you as it progresses. But never does it show disrespect to anyone involved in the actual events by trying to glamorize the ordeal, but simple feels like it is creating awareness and paying homage.