Not one to shy away from distressing subject matter with 2009’s The Hurt Locker and 2012’s Zero Dark Thirty, in her latest film director Kathryn Bigelow tackles racially charged police brutality (a matter she’s previously touched upon in 1995’s Strange Days) during the 1967 Detroit riots.
Focusing on the Algiers Motel incident which started with police raiding the motel after mistaking a starter pistol prank for a sniper and ended with the murder of three black men at the hands of the authorities. What lies between is a sustained torment of the motel guests, among whom is Larry (Algee Smith), a singer with the group The Dramatics, Vietnam veteran Greene (Anthony Mackie) and young white girls Julie Ann (Hannah Murray) and Karen (Kaitlyn Dever), who are unable to process the outrage surrounded them coexisting with black men.
Policemen Krauss (Will Poulter), Flynn (Ben O’Toole) and Demens (Jack Reynor) carry out the atrocities, with Poulter becoming the personification of malice, a menacing performance that plants itself under your skin and remains there long after viewing. Another alarmingly confident performance comes courtesy of John Boyega as Melvin Dismukes, a security guard who desperately attempts to keep the peace while his integrity is questioned from both sides.
Jacob Lawrence’s striking paintings depicting the Great Migration have been animated for the opening sequence, Detroit is then intertwined with archive footage and photographs. Fused seamlessly due to Barry Ackroyd’s cinematography that hauls the audience to the centre of the carnage, positioning us as witnesses to the barbarity unfolding.
Not a stranger to controversy, with Zero Dark Thirty oddly accused of endorsing torture, Bigelow has come under fire once more, this time whether a white director should be involved in such a project is the question being raised. Admitting that she’s not the right person to be making the film, but emphasising the importance of telling a story that’s been “50 years in the shadows”, whichever stance you take, Detroit’s timely release reinforces the urgency to open a dialogue.
Detroit is a necessary, strenuous film that’s startlingly relevant.