Director Kathryn Bigelow has come a long way from collaborating with her ex-husband on Point Break. A movie that is nothing but pure ‘90s entertainment. It’s dumb, hilarious, action-packed, and cool; featuring memorable dialogue and a great cast playing memorable characters. What’s not to love?
Heading into the 21st century, she—along with screenwriter Mark Boal—made the transition to capture the brutal realism of the War on Terrorism in The Hurt Locker (which won the Oscar for Best Picture of 2009) and Zero Dark Thirty. This time, they go back to a devastating time in history. Detroit brings the 1960s culture and the racial tensions of the time to pure life.
Michigan’s largest city has become one of the most diverse in America. Known as The Great Migration (as stated in the film’s opening scene), millions of African-Americans moved from the cotton fields of the South to the Northern states in hopes of living a better life and earn extra money. After World War II, however, the white population moved to the suburbs which caused tensions to rise.
On one of the hottest days of 1967, the police force (who are mostly white) make arrests on the streets, which pisses off the black community. They start robbing stores, put buildings and cars on fire, and protest to no end. The National Guard, the Michigan PD, and the Detroit PD patrol the streets day in and day out, and address a curfew to the residents.
Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega) is a security guard who hears shots at the nearby Algiers Motel. He goes over there to see what’s going on. Three white cops, led by Philip Krauss (Will Poulter) who has faced murder charges for killing a black male from robbing a grocery store in broad daylight. He lines people up against the wall to find out who’s responsible for shooting at the police. This resulted in three black males getting killed, and nine others—including a Vietnam veteran (Anthony Mackie) and two white females, Julie (Hannah Murray) and Karen (Kaitlyn Dever, Last Man Standing)—injured.
The riots from fifty years ago are relevant to the racial tensions of today—from the shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, to the shooting of Oscar Grant at San Francisco’s Fruitvale Station (depicted in 2013’s overlooked Fruitvale Station), to the riots in Baltimore in 2015; where a game between the Orioles and the Boston Red Sox went on without any fans in the stadium whatsoever. Detroit is a reminder of today’s racial discrimination.
Barry Ackroyd’s handheld camerawork resembles the films of Peter Berg and Paul Greengrass. The entire sequence at the Algiers Motel had the same impact as the lifeboat sequence in Captain Phillips; nothing but edge-of-your-seat intensity. While filmed in Dorchester, Massachusetts, the sets look as authentic as the city and the events that took place.
I cannot ask for a better cast. From Poulter’s sinister work as Officer Krauss to Boyega’s raw, convincing performance as Officer Dismukes (who seems to be a great guy to be around with, particularly in an early scene where he serves coffee to a small group of white officers), Algee Smith steals the entire movie as Larry Reed, the lead singer of the Dramatics, with a stellar voice. After his performance gets cancelled, reality begins to hit him across the face.
According to an article in the Detroit Free Press, most of the audience members who attended the world premiere at the Fox Theatre were actually a part of the riots—from police officers to ordinary residents. They were moved to tears over the film’s portrayal. It’s a shame Detroit underperformed at the box office this past weekend. This is a movie everybody needs to see; not to mention being viewed in every high school in America.