Director Kathryn Bigelow is perhaps the greatest tension-creating filmmaker today. From “The Hurt Locker” (2008) to “Zero Dark Thirty” (2012) and now to “Detroit”, her work is taut, precise and involving. While “Detroit” does not quite measure up to her previous achievements (classics in my mind), it is still a harrowing and personal story of race, crime and corruption.
The film begins as the city of Detroit is rocked by riots in 1967. The National Guard is called in, looting becomes rampant and buildings go up in flames as racial divisions peak. The Algiers Motel is raided by police in search of a sniper and what transpires is a tale of abuse, torture and murder.
After the initial set-up of the riots, the film focuses on the characters of Dismukes (Johnny Boyega), a security officer caught up in the police raid, Krauss (Will Poulter), the main cop responsible for most of the carnage, and Larry (Algee Smith), one of the men caught in the house that night who aspired to be a singer with his team, The Dramatics. Each becomes representative of the racial divide in a way, from the immovability of a bigot to the irreparable trauma of racial abuse to the realization that perhaps no matter how you function in society, you can still be viewed solely by the color of your skin.
While the film is told in a thrilling and horrifying manner, it doesn’t have much depth going for it nor is it’s lesson one that is original. While the story it tells is important and worthy of remembrance, in the current political and sociological climate, it doesn’t really add anything to the discourse on race relations. It’s more a simple story on police brutality and bigotry. The ending also doesn’t wrap anything up much thematically, not giving our characters strong emotional conclusions. The film therefore is strong, but not essential viewing.
“Detroit” is a gruesome story and it examines a topic that continues to haunt the world to this day. It is important to remember not only the history we are proud of, but also that of which we are ashamed, and stories like that told in “Detroit” are necessary.