Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Written by Mark Boal
Starring John Boyega, Algee Smith, Will Poulter, Jacob Latimore, Jason Mitchell, Hannah Murray, Jack Reynor, Kaitlyn Dever, Ben O’Toole, Anthony Mackie, Payton Smith, Nathan Davis Jr., Malcolm David Kelley, Joseph David-Jones, John Krasinski, Laz Alonzo
Cinematography by Barry Ackroyd
Detroit was a film that was one of my most anticipated films of the year because of the director-writer team. Both Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal struck gold twice with The Hurt Locker in 2009 and Zero Dark Thirty in 2012. Detroit tells the [mostly] true story of the Algiers Motel incident in the titular city on July 25, 1967. I say mostly because most of what’s depicted on screen is dramatized based on multiple eyewitness testimony from those involved in the incident. That doesn’t take away from the impact the film has on the audience today.
The film opens with Afro-Cuban inspired animations detailing how blacks fled to the north post the abolishment of slavery for work and civil rights, and how whites moved away from neighborhoods that had a growing black population. Segregation added to the growing tension felt by black communities reached a boiling point throughout the country in the mid to late 1960s. Detroit doesn’t just plop the audience right into the middle of the riot we get to see its inception and how the looting and violence plagued those who had to patrol the city and those who lived in it.
Bigelow makes it an effort to make Detroit feel like a documentary with the use of Barry Ackroyd’s cinema verite style. Shot on digital, Detroit feels like an authentic 35mm film with realistic grain and age that lends to the technology of the time. Adding to the realism and verite style is the use of splicing in super 8 newsreel footage that comes together in a near seamless way. Like Dunkirk, another period drama, Detroit’s sound design is top notch. Gun shots are felt and not just seen or heard. Much of the film takes place in a confined space with action heard behind closed doors and each footstep, whisper, gunshot sounds like it would in such an environment.
A Perfect Time
Detroit comes at a perfect time in the year. With footage of the Baltimore cop planting evidence and the Black Lives Matter movement in such a prominent position in the media, much of what is explored in the film, in a historical context, is very much relevant and prominent today. Boal’s intention isn’t to point the blame at any particular group of people, instead, he highlights a small number of bad apples that ruin the bunch, for both sides. If you’re coming out of this film with hatred towards any side, you’ve missed the point of the film.
From Anthony Mackie and Jason Mitchell to John Boyega and Algee Smith, Detroit touts a cast that is performing at the very height of their game. Will Poulter stands out as the film’s antagonist exuding a menace that sheds his goofy image from We’re The Millers that I couldn’t see past. Algee Smith’s Larry is the heart of the film, showing much of the events and aftermath through his eyes. Much of what Bigelow depicts is an unflinching reality that is earnest to those who endured the events of that night and doesn’t take away from that pain.
Shocking Use of Un-Seen Violence
Very little violence is actually seen on-screen but the booming sound of gunfire and rising tension add to the shock and horror of that night. One scene that stands out is the in the opening of the film where a group of soldiers fire at a young five-year-old peering out her window mistaking her for a sniper. It’s a shocking moment that sticks out, much like the church scene in Selma.
Detroit is a film that has very little faults. It truly is one of 2017’s best films and it’s currently my favorite film of the year. I can’t recommend this film enough.