Hot Take: Powerful, moving and poignant but also hard to digest. It’ll make ya wanna holler.
It’s been a rough week. Sitting in Las Vegas and perusing the news feed to see everything coming out of Charlottesville, it was almost as if I was a little disconnected being so far away from the East Coast and around a more celebratory melting pot of people who weren’t even mentioning the atrocities that were taking place on the opposite side of the country. By the time I got back to the East Coast, that guy less than half of us elected President had already doubled down on his brutal opening remarks and was headed for the rare triple down. (Actually, it’s so rare, I’ve never heard anyone actually accuse someone of tripling down but leave it to 45 to pull off such a rare feat of ridiculousness.) On Wednesday, going to see Detroit didn’t seem like the best idea considering how angry current events had me and how disenchanted I was with our ten steps backward we had taken this weekend as a country. However, looking forward and seeing that the film was headed for a slimming down of show times making it less likely I’d see it before it left theaters, jumping on a late Wednesday viewing made sense since the film appeared to be one worthy of going out of my way for. Now, it’s much later than I want it to be and I’m still awake thinking about how awful the events depicted in Detroit were and how frustrated it is that we still have atrocities taking place a la the events of the previous weekend.
Detroit is about one of the more horrific events that took place during the 1967 riots in Detroit. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow who also directed Point Break, The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, Detroit puts us right in the middle of the riots with some grainy film quality that looks like it was actually filmed in the 60s. It follows a couple of angles involving the people who would eventually be part of the Algiers Motel Incident and engrosses the audience in the racial tension and brutality of the event. The ensemble cast features a number of notable young actors including John Boyega, Will Poulter, Nathan Davis Jr., Algee Smith, Jacob Latimore, Jason Mitchell, Jack Reynor, Anthony Mackie, Hannah Murray and Kaitlyn Dever.
It’s especially surprising that Detroit was released in August considering its subject matter and the fact that it is good enough to garner some Oscar buzz. Bigelow’s last two films — The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty — were nominated for Best Picture and The Hurt Locker won which was a rarity at the time since it had a June release date. So, it’s not totally unfathomable that Detroit will be in discussions come Awards season. With how timely the topic is especially with our current climate, Detroit should remain as a relevant reminder of where we could be headed if level headed individuals aren’t able to steer the course of current events in a different direction and there are no signs of any level headed individuals being in positions of authority in our current government or at least the ones able to influence the agenda of our current Tweet happy President. Detroit is a sad reminder of how things can go horrifically wrong when tensions get high and those with a lack of sense and propensity for racism and violence are in positions of power.
As good as Detroit is, it’s hard to recommend without an asterisk. The cinema is typically a place people go to escape reality especially during a time where we need one such as this. You’re not getting an escape with Detroit. I left the theater both sad and angry because of what I saw unfold in Detroit much like I felt on Saturday as I learned of the events of Charlottesville. It’s hard to stomach such behavior in reality and just as difficult to sit through a rehash of a racially motivated atrocity as detailed in the film. While Detroit is an important film and one that should be lauded for its subject and unabashed retelling, the unsubtlety can be unsettling and emotionally moving. Maybe its a bit manipulative and a tad long but Detroit left a lasting impression on this viewer and it’s a reminder of a history I hope we never repeat.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- Bigelow Continues to Make Impactful Films
Bigelow has come a long way since Point Break and that’s not to say Point Break isn’t an entertaining action popcorn flick. Adding Detroit to her resume which already includes The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, Bigelow has positioned herself as one of the more relevant directors of the 21st century. Fun fact: Bigelow directed a two-part episode of Homicide: Life on the Streets in 1998 called “Fallen Heroes” and “Lines of Fire” in 1999 which were both stand-out episodes in the incredible show’s 7 season run.
- John Boyega is More Than Star Wars
Boyega gives one of the strongest performances in the film and continues to prove that he’s capable of more than being a character in the latest Star Wars trilogy.
- Will Poulter Does Bad Well
Poulter is no stranger to playing a villain. In Detroit, he plays a racist cop who steps way over the line and does it with menace and leaves a lasting impression.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- Sensationalized Violence
One of the harshest criticisms of Detroit is the fact that it lacks subtlety. It is in your face for almost 2 and a half hours and never relents. It can be overwhelming at times and often sensationalized although it is entirely possible that it is accurate in its retelling which makes it that much more disturbing.