The 1960’s have long been thought of as a series of major moments in this country’s history. It is in that time that race relations hit a boiling point that led to riots in Harlem, Watts, Newark, and Detroit. In each case the violence started because of excessive force by the police and each once resulted in massive amounts of destruction and deaths. Maybe most of you reading this have seen footage from those times and while they show you what was happening you were always looking from the outside in. Director Kathryn Bigelow changes that with her new film “Detroit” in which she puts you right in the middle of those faithful nights.
For those that don’t know, the Detroit riots began after the police arrested eighty people who were at an after hours bar. During those arrests a crowd gathered and started to get unruly and throw rocks at the police cars, which lead to more violence. This wasn’t an angry mob; this was a group of people who had reached their limits on how they were treated. While some are participating in the destruction, most are just trying to survive and not get involved. People like Dismukes (John Boyega) an honest man working two jobs, one being for a security company protecting business from looters. There is Larry (Algee Smith) a young man who with his friends are trying to get a record contract. The night though will bring these men together at the Algiers Motel and change the lives of everyone involved.
Bigelow who last brought us the Oscar Nominated “Zero Dark Thirty” has a knack for putting you in the middle of her stories. With “Detroit she puts you in a situation that is often uncomfortable knowing their will probably be no happy endings. These are not characters, but instead real people based on a real event and while pieces of the puzzle may be missing, writer Mark Boal filled in what he could from the survivors. It is that access to those who could tell what they remember that add to a story that no matter how hard you root for a different ending, ends just the way you think it would have. The story is gripping and grabs hold of you from the start and never lets you go as it keeps you hanging on every word.
Bigelow along with cinematographer Barry Ackroyd make the film feel like a documentary often putting you in the middle of everything. While “Detroit “ makes you feel like a best picture nomination is coming, it is not without its faults. The biggest one is the length of the film, which could have used some editing to make it more tight and not so sporadic. The problem is those things are parts of a bigger story you never see, so you appreciate the extra steps taken even though it feels unnecessary. The problems though don’t stop “Detroit” from being what it is, and that is a great film. Films like this don’t usually come out in August; instead they are saved for the fall and award season. So I hope it will be remembered come Oscar time. “Detroit” is a powerful look at a time that was not the proudest in America’s history, and this is surely a film that will stay in your gut long after the credits roll.