Detroit Review: Gritty, Ugly, Excellent

BY: THERY SANON

In 1967, Detroit was going through a socio-economic shift. As industrial jobs began to take over the job market, more and more people began to move into Detroit. With all of this new money flowing in from jobs and Great Society programs, Mayor Jerome Cavanaugh was able to start building up Detroit’s community and utility  by revamping the educational system and improving inner-city life. The people, while supportive of Cavanaugh’s choices and actions, still had one major complaint, the local Police Force. During this time, the Detroit police were at odds with the urban communities. Seeing as these communities were almost entirely black, there were many instances of racism, discrimination, and police-related deaths. These communities were speaking out against police brutality, but their cries were falling upon deaf ears. Then on July 23rd, 1967, the people would begin to take action, leading us to one of the most deadly and destructive riots in American History. For five days, people burned down businesses, fought local law enforcement, killed each other, and looted in the streets of Detroit.

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Detroit, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, is a powerful retelling of these events. Starting at the Blind Pig bar on July 23rd, this film takes you through the streets of Detroit during this 5-day period, and the atmosphere the of movie is chilling. Soldiers riding through ravaged streets, burning buildings, and displays of violence on both sides of the shield, are  just some of the visuals  that help give its audience a real sense of what that week looked like Fear is a powerful emotion, and it can be felt in the air of Detroit. Additionally, another thing that amplifies the impact of the setting is that real news clips and radio broadcasts are spliced in from the actual Detroit Riot. Clips of things like President Johnson sending in reinforcements to footage of people mobilizing in the streets really help to bring the audience into 1967. A lot of thought went into the setting, and it is presented and utilized so well that it feels like one wrong move by anyone can boil over into a riot. You really start to feel for these people and what they are going through. The perspectives of the main characters in this film also provide deep insight into the different views people held  on race relations, the role of police, and gentrification.  

While Detroit is a film based on history and fact, it does pay particular focus to the Algiers Motel Incident, where three unarmed black teenagers were allegedly shot and killed by members of the Detroit Police department. The reason I use “allegedly” here is because to this day, nobody knows what happened in that motel.There is no concrete story, and inside and outside of the courtroom, nobody was able to give a solid account of what had happened. In order to film this, the writers and directors had to piece together a story from different witness accounts and court statements that they either researched or collected themselves. This allowed them to stick to their goal of creating a historical fiction, but at the same time, these accounts also gave them the creative freedom to really play out the events of this incident in their vision, with their own conclusions. Without giving away any spoilers, this sequence is where the movie shines the brightest. It is a disgusting masterpiece. From the actors, to the camerawork, to the atmosphere at the Algiers, you’ll be on the edge of your seat the whole way through.

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The acting throughout this movie is stellar. The cast, led by John Boyega (Star Wars Episode VII), Will Poulter (The Revenant), and Algee Smith (The New Edition Story), did an incredible job of portraying the real people who actually were a part of this incident. The real star out of this group, however, is Poulter. The way Poulter carries himself as Officer Philip Krauss is just terrifying. He’s brutal, aggressive, callous, and remorseless, and his portrayal is capable of getting an emotional rise out of anyone who goes to see this movie.

We needed a movie like this to come out this summer. Detroit is the kind of movie that leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth, but I mean that in the best way possible. It feels like Kathryn Bigelow’s goal was to make you feel a little bad on the inside, regardless of who you are. This movie can get hard to watch at times, but that’s part of the artistic vision.History repeats itself, and there are points where Detroit in 1967 felt like America in 2017. In the world today, people and the police are at odds with each other, and police brutality is being broadcast across varying  social media platforms. The real question is what can we do to prevent another Detroit Riot situation from happening in cities where the police have been proven not to be working within the best interest of the people?

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Detroit is important. Whether you know about the riots going on, or are completely unaware this happened, please watch this movie. All of the signs in the real world are pointing to something like this happening again, and only time can tell if America has actually grown enough to produce a different outcome. This film is well made, well-portrayed, and is as historically accurate as it can be. Detroit should definitely be on everyone’s summer watchlist. Catch in theaters everywhere August 4.