Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Movie Review: Detroit

It has been clear long before I was born that something is wrong with the country and the souls of those in authority are corrupt. Kathryn Bigelow's Detroit exposes another terrible chapter in dramatic fashion that feels a bit off in its depiction of horrific violence. The story gives a brief background of the tension through a cartoon that feels far too simplistic for a nuanced view of a centuries old struggle and growing corruption in law and order. There is a short scene that plays no real significance in the rest of the film except to introduce the supposed cause of the riots but then it jumps to the major characters of this sickening story. 

The character that is most interesting and takes the role of protagonist in this harrowing tale is Larry (Algee Smith), a singer whose attempt at fame and a chance at the stage for his Motown group is cut short due to the riots. He and his friend Fred (Jacob Latimore) flee the angry police and raging fires to hide out the night in the Algiers hotel. Dismukes (John Boyega) works private security for a grocery store trying to help black men escape the brutality of the patrolling officers and national guard. Krauss (Will Poulter) is a racist police officer whose trigger happy nature with a shotgun earns him a homicide investigation before the events at the Algiers hotel. Larry and Fred flirt with two white women Julie (Hannah Murray) and Karen (Kaitlyn Dever) who bring them to meet some friends. 

Carl (Jason Mitchell) is fed up with the way white people treat them and plays a prank on Larry and Fred to scare them off with a fake starter pistol. He later uses this pistol to pretend to shoot at the cops while Dismukes serves them coffee. This leads an assault crew including Krauss and his fellow officers Demens (Jack Reynor) and Flynn (Ben O'Toole). The vicious nature was already apparent but tension rises almost immediately as the police believe the threat is real and pull the men and women from their rooms. They line them up against the wall including Greene (Anthony Mackie) who is caught in a room with the women. Krauss leads an awful death game pretending to kill each man to coerce a confession only after killing Carl and planting a knife on him.

The hotel scene plays out in sickening fashion and is unpleasant, unenjoyable, and nowhere near entertainment. Big stars like Mackie and Boyega, superstars in a just world, are sidelined with no great dialogue or emotional resonance as the filmmakers somehow decide that the guilt of this inhuman officers is a more compelling focus for the camera. Even Algee Smith is put in a role where he merely whimpers and uses his great singing voice briefly while Poulter's Krauss sneers and tortures the men and women. Forced to cover up the foolishness of Demens, they coerce the men to deny what happened, before letting the survivors free but kill Fred in the process. If the horror wasn't enough, the investigating officers lump Dismukes in as complicit with the white officers.

Detroit goes on to the show the court case but the verdict is clear before the trial starts and five decades later the same awful story plays out on the news. The movie is cynical, rightfully so, but tries to end on a hopeful note as Larry's career is destroyed by the time at the hotel and he finds solace singing for the church choir. The film dramatizes a true story taking liberties with some of the details as it states at the end to make for one of the more disturbing films of the year. The story is compelling but it looks like the creators might not have been the right choice to relay the tale. Bigelow's style is evident but there is a distance to the material that deadens the emotional impact.  

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