On Friday, I happened to do a double-bill of films- two stories based on real life as it turns out. The first is the American Made Review which I wrote for Fresh Friday. The second was the new Kathryn Bigelow film Detroit about the riots that took place in 1967 in that city over increasing racial tension. Which true story did I prefer? Detroit. And here is why.
Watch a trailer for the film DETROIT here!
The film begins with an animation, to get the audience up to speed on the history and tensions between black people and white in the first half of the 20th century. Segregation, hate speech, violence, cities all across America have erupted in carnage of various forms. The film swings into Detroit in the late sixties at an illegal party hosted by African Americans in their part of the city. The mostly-white police force enter the party and arrest most of the attendees and treat them in an inhumane manner, causing the tensions to boil over. The rioting begins, in what would later be called the 12th Street Riot. After a number of days of riots, events lead to an early concert of the African American band called The Dramatics. The riots interrupt their gig and some members end up at a motel called The Algiers where the majority of the movie takes place. Various factions intersect at the motel, leading to a fateful night for all involved.
There are number of key cast members involved with this film and, similar to Dunkirk, whilst there are big names involved, this story is really about the situation in Detroit during these riots. Some of the key actors include John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Jacob Latimore and Anthony Mackie and they all give solid performances, particularly the more villainous role of Poulter and the victimised band member of Smith. I know this is based on a true story, so my issue may seem unfair here, but while Boyega’s role was great, his character did sometimes feel like a spare part. His role in Star Wars: The Force Awakens probably got him a higher billing than he would have otherwise. Smith is the main character arc followed here and it is sublime and understandably tragic.
Obviously, events covered in a film such as this are going to be, at times, difficult to watch. The issues raised are horrific and the actions of many characters deplorable, and it is not just the white people who are the “big evil”. This is a film about all sides and the African Americans, due to how far they had been pushed, erupted in a catastrophic way, and certainly not in a measured one. It is wonderful to see the nuances to all sides of the story being relayed here. This strength comes largely from the script of Mark Boal, a collaborator of Bigelow’s since The Hurt Locker. No words I can use here in this review can describe how powerful a film this is. You will almost certainly be moved by the way the story unfolds and in the way it is told. Like Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, the story spans the entire saga of the riots from beginning to end, building up the tension slowly as the riots took over and then dealing with the repercussions of the events of the Algiers. The runtime of the film is therefore pretty long but you are gripped for the majority of it, with only a couple of dips in pace for me.
Out of the two true stories that I saw this last Friday, there is only one that I will come back to time and time again. And that is Detroit. With strong performances, particularly from some smaller stars and a harrowing tale of racism and hatred, you will be knocked to the floor by the film. With only a few flaws, this is one of the greatest films of the year so far. Get watching.