The team-up of writer Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow are one of the strongest forces to reckon with in Hollywood. Their initial effort, In the Valley of Elah, was an underseen personal gem. Then, The Hurt Locker, exploded them onto the scene; it grossed a mere $700,000 more than its budget despite incredible reviews, and then nabbed 6 Academy Awards including Best Picture away from the frontrunner, Avatar. Zero Dark Thirty was their latest effort, retelling the events that led up to Seal Team 6’s operation to kill Osama bin Laden; it was unanimously seen as a success, but ultimately divided fans on whether it surpassed The Hurt Locker as her finest film. Switching gears, Boal and Bigelow tackled the ever-growing epidemic of racism and police-brutality in their period piece, Detroit. A harrowing look at malevolence no more than 50 years back, Detroit brings the viewers right into the thick of the violence. The film is awkwardly broken up into four parts, the third and most prominent being filled with tension, horror, and brilliant filmmaking/writing from the dynamic duo, it’s just too bad the rest of the film is tormented by cliché’s, cheesy dialogue, tediously needless character development, and massive plot holes that brought it down drastically.
Detroit chronicles when police publicly bust an unlicensed club that incites a riot in the city over the police’s violent mistreating of black citizens. Fred (Jacob Latimore) and Larry (Algee Smith) look to wait out the uprising in the Algiers Motel, but when apparent shots are fired from their location, city police (Will Poulter, Jack Reynor, and Ben O’Toole), overnight security (John Boyega), the national guard, and state police go to investigate. When answers aren’t given, racist Detroit police use violent and torturous tactics to find out who the shooter was. The film also costars Hannah Murray, Kaitlyn Dever, Anthony Mackie, Jason Mitchell, Jeremy Strong, and John Krasinski.
The film may be lacking in various factors throughout, but the acting was never one of them. One of a director’s main job’s is to evoke a worthy performance from their actors, something Bigelow has proven she can achieve with Oscar nominated enactments by Jeremy Renner, and Jessica Chastain. John Boyega and crew give realistic insights into the character’s emotions, while Will Poulter gives a traumatic and convincing look at some of our worst men and woman in blue. His additions in films like The Maze Runner and the Revenant put him on the map, but I’m fairly certain that Detroit will be the one to turn him into an approved thespian, and even an Oscar nomination.
My very informal labeling of the four acts to the film are as follows: the riot, the preamble, the motel, and the courts. The first was memorable, but didn’t seem to fit in the film; though enjoyable could have easily been summed up with an onscreen crawl. The second was a way to introduce us to the characters; following the police was fascinating, getting an awareness into their opinions on the riots was baffling while all others seemed monotonous and unfortunately preventable. The court case was captivating, but ultimately predictable and accurately enraging.
Where the film truly shines is the hour or so we’re spent in motel with the police and their victims that is like what would happen if a film like The Strangers or The Purge took its time and got you emotionally invested in its characters. The scene is as concentrated as it is intense, we never get to leave the motel for a break, much like how the victims never were either. Where the scene made an error is that it allowed the viewer to become omniscient; we never feel like we’re up against the wall with those young men and woman, we’re just casual bystanders watching the actions unfold as opposed to having those actions unfold unto us. Regardless, the tension is still heavily prevalent and keeps you in shock continuously. Pardon the terrible wordage, but the characters are never black and white; the good guys may something or do some atrocity while the antagonists may show a sympathetic side. The script is only here to show you what happened, the wrongdoings are dreadful enough to speak for themselves.
“The film is awkwardly broken up into four parts, the third and most prominent being filled with tension, horror, and brilliant filmmaking/writing from the dynamic duo, it’s just too bad the rest of the film is tormented by cliché’s, cheesy dialogue, tediously needless character development, and massive plot holes that brought it down drastically.”
Boal and Bigelow ventured into territory foreign to them and must be applauded for their effort. They found an unknown story that needed to be heard and gave great voice to it. The sixty minutes in the hotel alone proves just what a remarkable filmmaker Bigelow is and even though the script feels lazy at parts, it’s still a mature look at the matter. Detroit is an important film to be seen and discussed here and now, and its direction and performances are a superior to most big-budget releases as of late, it’s just a bit in need of something more, especially in what we’ve come to expect from these two.
Cinema 35 Rating: 6/10