“Detroit” is the third rail of the summer movie landscape. This provocative and gritty movie depicts an era in American history that, while much more volatile, rings painfully true in our current political climate.
This movie has its flaws, but it excels at its main purpose of putting its finger directly on a hot-button issue and pressing down.
“Detroit” is directed by Kathryn Bigelow, who re-teams with screenwriter Mark Boal, who wrote both of her most recent and acclaimed films “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty.”
The movie is set in Detroit in 1967 and begins by meandering through the riots that gripped the city that sprang from the tension between the African-American community and the police.
Roughly the first hour of the movie is aimless, as we shift around the violence and chaos in the city with no central characters to focus on. Finally, the movie grabs onto a thread as we follow soul singer Larry (Algee Smith) and his friend Fred (Jacob Latimore) home from a riot-shortened gig.
The two are unable to make their way home, so they seek refuge at the Algiers Hotel, where the movie zeroes in like a laser.
Police and a National Guard unit storm the hotel after a cap gun is fired from a window. Led by overzealous police officer Krauss (played with perfect slimy villainy by Will Poulter), a handful of police spend the next few hours terrorizing Larry, Fred, and a few other hotel guests.
With the tension and dread of a horror movie, the unarmed captives are beaten and tormented while the situation slowly spins out of control.
The only voice of reason in the situation is Dismukes (John Boyega), an African-American security guard who tries to deescalate the situation but is ultimately powerless to make any difference.
Once we are finally liberated from the Algiers Hotel, we go on to witness a tragic miscarriage of justice as this sad-but-true story comes to a troubling and unsatisfying conclusion. This movie pulls no punches and boldly throws itself directly into the debate between Black and Blue Lives.
“Detroit” has an unquestionable point of view and seems to be pleading with us to consider humanity first and foremost over either color. There’s not a lot of subtlety here, as it is the cinematic equivalent of a punch in the gut.
The movie is undoubtedly effective in its primary goal, but it could have used a stronger hand in the editing room as you wind up feeling more exhausted than outraged.
At any rate, “Detroit” is a vital movie of our times and while it is far from perfect, it touches an exposed nerve we can no longer afford to ignore.
“Detroit” is rated R for strong violence and pervasive language.