Categories: Arts Movies and TV

‘Detroit’ a harrowing masterpiece about 1967 riots

“Detroit” is yet another masterpiece from that most singular of American directors, Kathryn Bigelow.

Like Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Detroit” was written by journalist Mark Boal, based largely on truth and testimonials, with necessary fictional fill-ins.

It’s set in July of 1967, during what is considered to be one of the largest and most devastating riots in American history. It begins when police raid a “blind pig,” or an illegal after-hours bar. A crowd gathers. Fueled by racial tension, violence erupts.

The film then introduces several key characters, including hair-trigger white cop Krauss (Will Poulter), soul singer Larry Reed (Algee Smith) and security guard Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega).

Near the Algiers Motel, a man fires a starter pistol from a window, and the National Guard and the police swarm the place, rounding up several black men and two white women.

This sequence is the harrowing centerpiece of the film, with Krauss bullying and beating the suspects, trying to find the source of the gunshots, while the military distances itself from a potential civil rights quagmire.

Having risen through the ranks of “B”-grade genre movies like “Near Dark” and “Point Break,” Bigelow is perhaps the only filmmaker that understands how violence can be both alluring and repulsive. Other, lesser directors tend to show only one black-or-white side of this gray area.

In “Detroit,” displays of pretend violence (designed to get people to talk) carry as much weight as actual acts of violence. The former is the result of order and the latter, chaos. They are easily mixed up.

Indeed, Bigelow manages to show here that a major by-product of racism is not necessarily hatred, but frustration. These deep feelings of exasperation and dismay drive the characters, and create three-dimensional performances, even from players — like Anthony Mackie, as a war veteran — appearing in only a few scenes.

Boyega’s Dismukes is the connecting character, a brave moral compass hoping to keep the peace, and hovering over moments of chaos like a hurt angel.

Aided by cinematographer Barry Ackroyd (“United 93,” “The Big Short”), Bigelow keeps all the chaos completely decipherable, effectively establishing place and time, as well as a strong sense of the scale of the event; the pieces she chooses to show add up to a much larger picture outside the frame.

Yet it refuses to coddle, or to provide answers. As “Detroit” draws to a close, any human being with a heart and soul will be enraged by injustice and, perhaps, driven toward a new kindness.

REVIEW
Detroit
Four stars
Starring John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Anthony Mackie
Written by Mark Boal
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Rated R
Running time 2 hours, 23 minutes

Jeffrey M. Anderson
Share
Published by
Jeffrey M. Anderson

Recent Posts

SF Preps Basketball: Ben Knight leads Mission to 44th straight AAA win

ABRAHAM LINCOLN HIGH SCHOOL — Stepping across the half-court line, Ben Knight drew a double team from a pair of…

9 hours ago

City College of San Francisco men’s and women’s basketball sweep doubleheader by wide margins

The City College of San Francisco women’s and men’s basketball team both won by large margins in a home doubleheader…

9 hours ago

Public park memorial for Alex Nieto nears installation

A planned public park memorial for Alex Nieto, who was fatally shot by San Francisco police officers in March 2014,…

11 hours ago

DeMarcus Cousins returns to the court to score 14 points in win for Warriors

LOS ANGELES — With a skip pass through the lane from Kevin Durant, and a soaring, one-handed slam dunk over…

14 hours ago

Judge issues gag order in Ghost Ship fire criminal case

Despite the defense's strong objections, including an allegation that it smacks of Nazi Germany and fascism, a judge on Friday…

18 hours ago