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Detroit - Review

Detroit

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

KATHRYN Bigelow follows up the unmissable Zero Dark Thirty, about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, with another similarly must-see film about another complex and controversial chapter in American history.

Detroit, which also reunites her with writing partner Mark Boal, examines the riots that gripped that city in 1967, shining a light on one particularly horrific incident of police brutality fuelled by racism that – perhaps most alarmingly – has chilling parallels with events now gripping Trump’s America (in places like Charlottesville, Virginia).

The film picks up with a police raid on a drinking club that provides the catalyst for the riots. It then combines newsreel-style footage of the violence that ensued with insights into the lives of its soon-to-be key players, before focusing on the [now notorious] events that unfolded at the Algiers Motel.

It’s here that racist cops, led by a character named Krauss (played by Britain’s Will Poulter), converge upon the venue in an attempt to find a suspected sniper. Unbeknown to them, however, is that the shots fired from the motel earlier in the night were from a toy gun, by way of an ill-advised prank.

Mindful that they won’t be believed, no one at the motel is talking, not even once they are lined up, mercilessly beaten and sometimes tortured as the police resort to increasingly desperate tactics to get answers.

Among the detainees are two members of a black singing group (including Algee Smith), whose lives will be changed forever, as well as a black security guard (played by John Boyega), who acts as a frustrated observer.

Bigelow directs the Algiers sequence in unflinching fashion, piling on the claustrophobic tension and almost making you feel as though you are there. Poulter’s cop is a terrifying force of evil… a composite of several real-life characters whose hatred for those he is interrogating eventually compels him to murder.

Detroit

It’s a performance that will be made all the more terrifying to viewers who previously recognise him as the Sylvester Stallone loving kid from Son of Rambow or the idiot from We’re The Millers. But perhaps, more worryingly, it’s the nagging realisation that there really were [and are] men like Krauss out there – and wearing a badge too.

On the other side of things, meanwhile, are Smith and Boyega, whose innocence, fear and anger are given a palpable sense of reality. For Smith’s singer, in particular, life will never be the same again, as his view of authority [and perhaps white people in general] is forever shaped by the events that took place at The Algiers. Smith conveys his character’s transition from promising young charismatic singer/idealist to broken man in heart-breaking fashion, arguably giving the film it’s heart and soul.

But Boyega is also terrific at conveying a sense of disappointment and frustration in a system that did – and continues – to allow these kinds of atrocities to happen. I have previously stated in past reviews that he rivals the intensity of a young Denzel Washington; and in one or two scenes in Detroit he continues to live up to those lofty heights.

Boal and Bigelow, meanwhile, are unapologetic in their condemnation of the events themselves, as well as the miscarriage of justice that ensued. Detroit is an angry film, in many ways, as well as a timely alarm call to America in general [and other countries where institutionalised racism continues to be a problem] to wake up.

That’s not to say it isn’t without faults. With so much to cram in, Detroit doesn’t attempt to explore what causes such racism to fester within the souls of men entrusted with serving and protecting, thereby giving rise to accusations that it is one-sided. While the film, by its own admission, also takes dramatic licence at times, which again opens up the possibility for certain elements to be dismissive of what it has to say.

The narrative structure is such, too, that certain storylines feel rushed, while other elements are under-explained, such as the role and allegiances of certain police officers in the subsequent investigation.

But in the main, Bigelow’s latest is a harrowing and utterly gripping pressure cooker of a film that thrusts you into a nightmare from which many, sadly, are still unable to wake.

It is cinema at its most potent and relevant that demands and deserves to find the widest audience possible.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 2hrs 23mins
UK Release Date: August 25, 2017