Detroit is heart-stopping, heart-breaking and one hell of an emotional rollercoaster… And for the most part, it’s true.
Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit follows the harrowing story of the Algier’s Hotel Incident that occurred during the infamous 12th Street Riots that plagued the city of Detroit in the summer of 1967, resulting in the death of 3 men: Carl Cooper (Jason Mitchell), Aubrey Pollard (Nathan Davis Jr.) and Fred Temple (Jacob Latimore). The film follows the stories of the numerous involved including: lead singer of The Dramatics Larry Reed (Algee Smith), Private security guard Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega) and blatantly racist cop Phillip Krauss (Will Poulter) and the violent events of that fateful night. Be prepared to watch behind your hands at the awful atrocities that occurred during the raid involving a staged murder, a terrifying rendition of the execution game and the sexual assault of a young girl.
What should be said is because of the numerous stories being told, it was initially hard to keep track of who were going to be the main characters to start off with. For example, Anthony Mackie’s character Greene is one of the first characters shown in the film -having returned from duty in the Vietnam War to be promptly arrested at his own party- and he does indeed become a crucial character in the film’s proceedings, however after his arrest he is not seen again until everything starts kicking off leaving the audience to spend time placing who he is again. I think part of this initial confusion is due to the trailer being slightly misleading in implying the story involved a larger part for John Boyega’s character than it actually did. This is understandable as who wouldn’t cash in on the star’s recent fame from the seventh instalment of the Star Wars franchise to promote the film? But if you’re expecting Detroit to follow his character, Dismukes, around then you’re going to be disappointed.
That being said, that does not take away from the rest of the talent in the cast. Boyega certainly does a stand up job but it is really Algee Smith and Will Poulter who take the cake here. Smith, who is relatively unknown shines with not only his acting ability but his voice too, portraying not only the former lead singer of The Dramatics but also writing and preforming ‘Grow’ for the soundtrack of the film too. To start off with, I actually found his character to be quite cringey but once the story got underway it was heart-breaking to see how this experience ruined his career and his confidence too. But it is Poulter, in my opinion, who is the true star of Detroit. After watching numerous films where he has been typecast in the ditzy comic relief role (not that he doesn’t great at these. His role as Kenny in 2013’s We’re the Millers is absolutely brilliant and hilarious), it is great to see a change of role and with it the raw talent he possesses. Clearly, he is not a one trick pony as I genuinely found myself despising his character and the awful acts he got away with throughout the film showing no remorse whatsoever.
In fact, Detroit boasts a great line up of fresh faces that will all do brilliantly in the light of this film. Game of Thrones’ Hannah Murray certainly shows she is versatile changing from her usually docile and sweet character of Gilly to Detroit’s’ confident and strong Julie Hysell.
For what was a film largely about the unfair treatment of blacks, largely by the police and through the courts too during the 1960s, Detroit actually did a great job of being rather representative on issues and not completely one siding their story. Undoubtedly, the message is clear that 1960s America -especially Detroit- was inherently and institutionally racist. Looking at the jury present in the court scenes for the sentencing of cops Krauss, Flynn (Ben O’Toole), Demens (Jack Reynor) and Dismukes, they were all white and, with the exception of one man, all women. But that being said they did not generalise all whites or all blacks into one stereotype. For example: not all white cops were racist as shown by the sympathetic cop who finds Larry and takes him to the hospital. Not all cops were white, shown by Dismukes and his partner -although only security guards- but also in the film’s opening scenes with Officer Frank (Chris Chalk), who was actually orchestrating the shutting down of the party and the arrests of all the black people attending it. Not all the looters were black, in a blink and you’ll miss it scene, we see a white woman stealing what appears to be a TV. What can be gathered from these characters is that Bigelow has tried very hard not to take one side on the issue. Although the portrayal of Krauss is extremely negative with him being shown to have no remorse whatsoever, on the flip side the actions of the looters during the riots is also condemned too. It cannot be said that these scenes of breaking into neighbourhood shops were shown positively. Bear in mind most white people had migrated to the suburbs in the 1960s as the opening titles explain, leaving these shops to be ran for the most part by black owners, thus rendering looting to fight white prerogative completely counterproductive.
I would certainly recommend Detroit to absolutely anyone. Even those who are faint at heart as it is a vital part of history that everyone should know as to ensure that it never be repeated! Especially with the current climate in America in particular Charlottesville, this story has never had a better timing to be told.