Film Review: DETROIT

Film Poster: DETROIT

Film Poster: DETROIT

This is one unnecessarily provocative account.

According to historical accounts and reenacted by director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal, the infamous three-day Detroit riots that began the night of July 23, 1967, started when the police raided an after-hours club.

Were the police supposed to let it go on because it was in a black neighborhood and a party celebrating the return of two locals from the Vietnam War?

Whatever the justification, and it was probably good, since the “c.o.” the confidential informer, was there to tell the arresting police to check the women carefully. Why? What was the reason for the raid?

Bigelow and Boal pass over this key point.

Breaking up the party led to the partygoers throwing stuff at the police, setting fires and then the looting began. Looting (let’s not forget “looting” means smashing windows of stores) and fires became so city-wide that news video showed the enormous
toll stealing from stores and fires took on the city. It looked like Aleppo, Syria.

More police are called in and with the Detroit citizens wiping out stores and then setting them on fire – for blocks – the National Guard had to be called in. People walked in front of news cameras carrying out TVs. When one enterprising “thief” steals
two bags of groceries to feed his starving children and bedridden grandmother, he is shot in the back running away by a policeman, Philip Krauss (Will Poulter).

Krasuss’s police sergeant hauls him into his office and tells him murder charges will be filed, but sends him right back to work policing the riot.

The lead singer of The Dramatics, Larry Reed (Algee Smith), is getting ready for his band’s big break performing right after Martha and the Vandellas at a downtown theater. When a curfew is announced, The Dramatics cannot appear since the police shut
down the theater.

Film Image: DETROIT

Film Image: DETROIT

Furious, Larry and his buddy Fred (Jacob Latimore) decide to get an $11 room instead of trying to make it home. The Algiers Hotel is a seedy dive with a pool. Its got drugs, hookers and the only two white, teenage girls from Ohio looking for some excitement
as guests.

Invited by Julie Ann (Hannah Murray) and Karen (Kaitlyn Dever), Larry and Fred go along with them to their friend’s Carl’s (Jason Mitchell) room.

Noticing the police staging outside, Carl takes a toy gun and starts shooting from his hotel room window. Fearing there is a sniper on the roof of the Algiers, Krauss and a few of his fellow officers storm the hotel. The girls, Carl, Larry, Fred and a
few other friends are the only ones left in the hotel.

Carl, who started this whole mess, is summarily killed by Krauss. And now begins a grueling, sadistic play by Krauss to weed out the shooter from the group. He has them up against the wall in a row and takes each one into another room for interrogation,
beatings and threats of death. This segment is agonizing and relentless. What happened in the hotel has never been established but three people were killed that night.

Krauss, with murder charges looming anyhow, let’s his inner sadist express itself. He is so over-the-top, he’s mesmerizing. He’s found his calling and takes two of his fellow cops along. He’s not a dumb cop, just a cop living his dream of oppressing,
violating and humiliating people in the predominantly black community.

During Krauss’s interrogation game, he is interrupted by members of the National Guard, the Michigan State Police and a security guard, Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega), who is being paid to protect the grocery store across from the Algiers. What can he
do, even if he has a rifle?

Faced with the extreme violence and game-of-death being orchestrated by Krauss, you would think – or wanted to shout out to the line of terrified people – someone would just save themselves and everyone else by screaming, “Hey, you just killed Carl. He
was the shooter.”

A shot is heard and only a cop walks out of the interrogation room. But no, for some untold, unexplained reason, everyone on the line takes their turn in the interrogation room.

I lost respect for the line of victims as they continued to be beaten senseless by Krauss and his partners, but still refused to “snitch” on dead Carl. Why?

Various accounts have been offered as to what happened in the Algiers that night but, as the filmmakers say at the end of the film, the scenario was pieced together and no one really knows.

Since Krauss and his two fellow officers were found not guilty of the three murders committed that night, their account and justification – if there was one – goes unrecorded.

The excess violence and Krauss’s straight-out crazy caricature are the flaws of DETROIT. If it is to enrage the black communities across the country, as Bigelow and Baol clearly intended, they have succeeded.

Nevertheless, the direction is superb and the tension palpable, but the screenplay is lacking in a balanced, objective view of what happened. What about the shopkeepers and the people living in the buildings that were destroyed? Why was Krauss’s first
murder dispensed with?

How much did it cost the city in rebuilding and what was the outcome? All we know is what happened to the principals on the line and the security guard. The policemen involved were found not guilty during their trials and their accounts are not part of
the historical record.

Well, we can forget about O.J. giving his true account as well.

Boyega, ostensibly the star of DETROIT, is a mere observer incapable of actually doing anything. It is Poulter, while yes, he chews up the scenery, but he is mesmerizing. You can’t take your eyes off him. It is so exaggerated that you just go along, watching
Poulter escalate his craziness and unleash his character’s sadism without any reins.

Its difficult to criticize DETROIT since the truth that the Detroit police were racist and brutal to the black community stands as fact. Questions do arise in watching the movie and neither Bigelow or Baol have sought out the psychological and sociological
motivations of everyone who participated in the three days of rioting.

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About Victoria Alexander

Member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society: www.lvfcs.org/. Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email at victoria.alexander.lv@gmail.com. For a complete list of Victoria Alexander's movie reviews on Rotten Tomatoes go to: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/author/author-3571/ Contributing to: FilmsInReview: http://www.filmsinreview.com FilmFestivalToday: http://www.filmfestivaltoday.com Las Vegas Informer Group: LVInformer.com Member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society: www.lvfcs.org
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