Hard to believe that the United States is back to a time in which black men are being shot down in the streets by police officers, but we are. Many Americans feel they are going through a dark time right now. Unfortunately they are not wrong. It is films like Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow’s (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty) Detroit which give us an indication as to where they are heading unless some serious changes are made. Makes an already tough film to watch (but excellent!) even more harrowing.
The city of Detroit has had some glorious moments as well as some really tough ones. In the year of 1967 it was one of the rough patches. Chaos ruled and violence loomed on every street corner. The summer of 1967 was dominated by civil unrest. Race relations are at a low point. Police are clashing with protesters. It is black vs. white.
Some are trying to carry on with their lives. Like the members of the up and coming singing group, The Dramatics. Buoyed by their young acting manager, Fred (Jacob Latimore – Ride Along, The Maze Runner), and dreams of their lead singer, Larry (Algee Smith – from television’s The New Edition Story), they finally have a gig in which they believe will be their big break. Those dreams of fame and fortune come crashing down around them like the city as the show they are set to sing in gets cancelled due to the riots going on close by.
Crestfallen but wanting to get to safety, Fred and Larry manage to book a room at the Algiers Motel. There they meet other men of colour along with a couple of white girls, Julie (Hannah Murray – from television’s Game of Thrones) and Karen (Kaitlyn Dever – from television’s Justified). Their safe haven from all the mayhem turns into a deadly place after Carl (Jason Mitchell – Straight Outta Compton, Contraband) fools around with a starter’s pistol.
The Algiers Motel is descended upon by Detroit Police, state troopers and the National Guard. A trio of Detroit policemen, Krauss (Will Poulter – The Revenant, We’re the Millers), Demens (Jack Reynor – Transformers: Age of Extinction) and Flynn (Ben O’Toole – Hacksaw Ridge, The Water Diviner), begin what will turn into an evening of violence, terror, misconduct, and murder. On the sidelines stands security guard Dismukes (John Boyega – Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Attack the Block), who knows he is fairly impotent in his ability to stop what is going on.
Racism and the consequences of it are the main themes of this unrelenting and uncomprimising film. Bigelow does not hold back in any regard. Vis a vis the racism, tension or violence. Hard to watch at times, this is a visceral film that will definitely have you reacting. At times while watching you might feel like you have been punched in the stomach. Once the horrors start they do not stop. It is tension-filled and heartbreaking. You will not leave the theatre without your heart, head and body feeling like they have been through 12 rounds with Mike Tyson.
Hard but necessary. Necessary as it forces you to see that the system was (and is) complicit in the injustice and maltreatment of the African American population. Three unarmed black men were killed at the Algiers Hotel in 1967. Those responsible, who were white, were not held accountable. A warning to us that this is happening again and is unacceptable.
Bigelow and her screenwriter Mark Boal (In the Valley of Elah, The Hurt Locker) have drawn us back into the sights and feels of the late 60s. We are transported due to their diligence and attention to detail. What I did appreciate, while others might not, is that they did not lead you around by the nose. The viewer is left to their own devices when it comes to drawing conclusions. We should not impose upon the director or screenwriter the heavy burden of coming up with outcomes or answers that the entire population (including law enforcement and government) has not been able to 50 years later.