Film Review: ‘Detroit’ Encompasses Fury and Injustice in Bigelow’s Finest Directorial Effort

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Intense, respectful, and impeccably urgent, Kathryn Bigelow‘s newest and most vibrant directorial effort exists in the powerfully relevant “Detroit.”  The film’s volatile subject, echoing against the backdrop of the Detroit riots that began in July 1967, is superbly executed.  Bigelow, along with screenwriter Mark Boal, craft an artful and gritty peek into racial injustice.  “Detroit” feels as if it was made as a preview of our current state of relations.  It’s one of the year’s best films.

An exceptional deconstruction of a very broad and telling subject, “Detroit” tells the story of the murder of three African-American men at the Algiers Motel, amidst the chaos of the Detroit riots.

Assembling an array of talented actors, “Detroit” encompasses one of the year’s best ensembles.  In particular, Will Poulter as Krauss, a racist and volatile police officer, is remarkable.  The hatred and ignorance he chooses to wear upon his skin is at times incredibly unnerving but always compelling.

Will Poulter and Anthony Mackie in “Detroit”

John Boyega‘s Dismukes, a late night security officer, echoes the career of a young Denzel Washington, and is shockingly subdued.  His representation illustrates the inner battles that constantly plague any minority in a position of power, attempting to help one’s of his own community.

There are countless other highlights among the cast: Anthony Mackie reminding us of his “Hurt Locker” days, shows pure strength and resolve.  Jason Mitchell rides the line between anger and fear effortlessly in two short scenes.  Jacob Latimore finally taps into the promise he’s shown in his preceding roles.  Jack Reynor‘s “cherry-popping” racist officer is uncomfortably efficient.  The vocal chops of Algee Smith will be worth talking about, while the dedication of Kaitlyn Dever and Hannah Murray offer a interesting variable worth discussing after the credits roll.

The film’s technical merits stand proudly against other big blockbusters of the year.  The production values rightfully and skillfully capture the time of unrest, while Barry Ackroyd’s camera work frames an intimate vitality of hate.  If you’re looking for an MVP, you can look no further than William Goldenberg’s sharp editing.  He polishes a film full of fiery injustice and gives it a humanity for the viewer to embrace.

The structure of the film, told in a three-part sequence, is almost perfect.  The initial setup shows the uncertainty and gives us the base needed to enter this disturbing time.  The second sequence, taking place at the Algiers, is probably one of the most unsettling sequences seen in film this decade.  Bigelow and Boal choose to poke the lion of the viewer.  With emotions and tensions rising, we are thrust into an intimate portrait of injustice that can no longer be tolerated.

By the end of this, we are emotionally drained, aching for resolution.  If you are familiar with history, you know that resolution will never come.  The way that the film wraps things up seems odd. Seemingly rushed, the final third pales in comparison to everything that came before it.  Glossing over facts of the case, the missed opportunity is in failing to educate the public with the procedures in which these cases were orchestrated.  These are evident problems that still exist today.

The inclusion of the very capable John Krasinski didn’t help in this regard.  Perhaps too contemporary for this time period, it’s as though “Jim Halpert” wanted to play a prank on Dwight and decided to play dress up.

Whether the blame is on Bigelow’s choices, Boal’s writing, or Goldenberg’s editing, the film just doesn’t quite stick the landing the way it’s supposed to.  This is an example of one of those films that could have benefited from another 30 to 45 minutes of run time to flesh it all out.

Detroit” taps into something real and too familiar.  Its vivacious and riveting interior matches its passionate and acute exterior.  Mirroring the works of something we may have seen from Spike Lee or Ava DuVernay, Bigelow shows the respect and dignity of the time while speaking to all the citizens of today.  A level of understanding of one another is desperately needed.  We can all hope for some in the near future.

One of the summer’s first slam dunk Oscar contenders has emerged.

“Detroit” is distributed by Annapurna Pictures and opens in theaters on Aug. 4.

GRADE: (★★★½)

And be sure to check the Oscar Predictions to see where “DETROIT” ranks.

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MOTION PICTURE |DIRECTOR |
LEAD ACTOR | LEAD ACTRESS | SUPPORTING ACTOR | SUPPORTING ACTRESS | 
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY | ADAPTED SCREENPLAY | ANIMATED FEATURE |
PRODUCTION DESIGN | CINEMATOGRAPHY | COSTUME DESIGN | FILM EDITING |
MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING | SOUND MIXING | SOUND EDITING | VISUAL EFFECTS |
ORIGINAL SCORE | ORIGINAL SONG |

  • Joey Magidson

    For me, it’s the best film of the year so far. Truly a marvel.

    • Aldebaran

      Better than Dunkirk?

      • Joey Magidson

        Ever so slightly, yes.

  • Aldebaran

    Glad to see will Poulter getting the recognition that he deserves .

  • John

    Runtime?