For the second time in three weeks, a serious movie has hit the theaters to break up the wave of summer blockbusters. Two weeks ago, we were exposed to the triumph of the British people in Dunkirk. This week, we are witness to the shame of the American people in Detroit.
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, Detroit follows a handful of people caught up in the center of the 1967 Detroit Riots. At the height of racial tension in the United States, a police raid on the 12th street of Detroit prompted a crowd of onlookers to form who witnessed black men and women being shuttled into police cars and arrested. In response, the crowd began a riot that would last five days. On the third day of the riots, a confrontation took place at the Algiers Motel, which is where the bulk of the film takes place.
The greatest strength of this film lies in its tension. Bigelow has shown a talent for being able to create some of the most intense scenes in Hollywood over the past decade with Hurt Locker and Zero Dark 30. Rather than having multiple tense scenes to give the audience time to breathe in between, Bigelow opts for one very long sequence of very high tension. The confrontation at the Algiers Motel is a lengthy one, and it maintains a fairly consistent level of tension throughout.
While the tension is rife for most of it, it begins to wane at points simply due to its sheer length. The most pivotal events of the film take place in the motel, so there is a lot of information to unfold. This results in a very long sequence that begins to feel its length towards the end. Detroit is 2 hours and 23 minutes long; it could have used a bit of trimming to cut it down closer to the two hour mark. The main sequence in the motel begins to ware, as does its aftermath. It is not a film that outstays its welcome, but it could have been more effective if it were maybe 10-15 minutes shorter.
Other than that slight issue with the length, this is an excellent film. Most of the issues that I had with Dunkirk were not present in this film. It is one that has excellent characters that are diverse and complex. Not all of the police officers are mindless racists with a short fuse and an eager trigger finger. Conversely, not all of the black men and women in this film are innocent victims being abused by the police. Each character feels like a real person with their own personalities and desires; considering this is a dramatization of the actual events that took place at the Algiers Motel on July 26th, 1967, that is to be expected.
Detroit is an incredibly well made film that places the audience right in the teeth of the riots that rocked the U.S. during the Civil Rights Movement. Though it does not quite live up to Bigelow’s previous two films, it is still of extremely high quality that should come as much needed change of pace for anyone out there looking to ditch the summer blockbusters again.
Quick PSA: Much like her previous films, Bigelow employs a guerrilla style camera in this film, which means there will be some shaking. Anyone who gets a migraine from watching films like Cloverfield should sit near the back of the auditorium. The shaking is not nearly as bad as it is in Cloverfield, but it is on par with the amount seen her previous films. After a few scenes, it levels out a lot and does not become an issue again.