Movie Review: Detroit
Detroit follows the events of the 12th Street Riot in 1967 and focuses primarily on the Algiers Motel. It was directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by Mark Boal, her collaborator on The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. It focuses in the beginning on John Boyega as Melvin Dismukes and Will Poulter as police officer Philip Krauss. However, the supporting cast is key as well and features Algee Smith, Jacob Latimore, Jason Mitchell, Hannah Murray, Anthony Mackie, and John Krasinski.
The film begins with a short animation that segues the audience to July 23, 1967. On this day the raids begin after an unlicensed club is busted by the police after merely celebrating the return of some veterans from the war. While arresting the suspects, events escalate and soon the mob begins to throw rocks and other items at the cops. What follows is looting and fires, the official beginning of the 12th Street Riot. As the riots begin, different characters are highlighted such as Poulter’s crooked cop and Smith’s Larry Reed, a musician for The Dramatics. The Michigan National Guard and Army personnel are called into the city for reinforcements in keeping the peace. When gunshots are heard one night coming near the Algiers, though, police and other law enforcement occupy the area and threaten its residents for details about the shots. During their interrogation and threats, the situation quickly grows out of hand.
First of all, I felt like this was partly a history lesson for me. While I’m fairly knowledgeable about U.S. History in light of my college major, this was all clearly before my time. Also, my studies tended to focus on the southern region of the United States since that’s where I lived. So, focusing on the civil rights movement in Detroit was different and illuminating. However, this also brings about one of my few complaints about the film. I know the purpose was to focus on the riots and specifically the Algiers Motel incident, but seeing as it is named Detroit, I could have benefitted from more backstory of the civil rights movement in that area. Sure, it culminated in the riot and those events, but riots don’t start out of thin air. That information would have been more useful than the animated portion at the beginning.
Also, from a historical standpoint, I would have liked to have seen the civil tribunal that happened after the incident. I did want to know what happened to the police officers and the victims, which was shown in the film, but I also would have liked to have seen the struggle and public pressure it took for there to even be a court trial. Now, I know that it probably sounds like I’m complaining a lot, but it’s just because I’m a stickler for historical accuracy in movies such as these.
However, those complaints don’t take away from how powerful this movie and these events were. It showcases one of the lowest points of American history. It shows police officers overstepping their positions. It shows them intimidating, beating, and killing black men just because of their own personal prejudices. It’s a terrible thing to watch unfold, and it wells up anger in the audience over the injustices transpiring on the screen. The performances were terrific; Algee Smith and John Boyega in particular were standouts, and to be honest, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to look at that kid from Narnia the same way. Detroit is not a movie with much repeat watch appeal due to its unsettling content, but it’s worth seeing. It’s a film that reminds us of the past on the fiftieth anniversary of its happening in the hopes that we won’t repeat it in the future.