Detroit

2hrs 23mins | Rated R16 | Violence, cruelty & offensive language.

In July 1967, the Detroit police raided and broke up a party at an unlicensed nightclub in the central city. Attending the party were 80 or so people celebrating the return from Vietnam of two black servicemen. What happened next is disputed, but the events are remembered today as the "12th Street Riot" and the "1967 Detroit Rebellion".
Four days later, 43 people were dead. Three of those deaths occurred in a downtown motel. Kathryn Bigelow's (The Hurt Locker, Strange Days) Detroit uses the city-wide events as a backdrop, but focuses near-exclusively on what became known as The Algiers Motel Incident.
Bigelow's film is a beast of three very distinct acts. The early section showing the police action and the civilian response feels a little rushed and perfunctory.
A deeper look at the environment and a mention of the marches of 1963 – after another police acquittal for the killing of a black youth – would have given some much needed context to the events that followed.
There was a long and ugly history of police brutality against black residents of the inner-city – much documented – but Bigelow seems happy to set her killers up as a few bad apples in a mostly decent force.

But once Bigelow hits the 30-minute mark the film she wanted to make moves sharply into view and Detroit becomes a terrible, coiling and remorseless piece of work. Horribly credibly, Bigelow and her writers show us the only possible interpretation, via the eyewitness testimony and the forensic evidence, of what happened inside the Algiers Motel.

This lengthy second act is a brutalising tour-de-force. It left me breathless, shaking with anger and literally in tears.
Detroit puts us in the motel that night and it shows us the reality of what it can mean to be a young black man at the wrong end of a gun wielded by a racist in a uniform. It is a confronting, polarising and utterly necessary film, and it arrived like something pre-ordained at exactly its own moment in American history, endlessly repeating.

I can pretty much promise that you won't enjoy Detroit. But you will be moved, impressed, provoked and enraged by it. Bigelow's mostly young cast make every scene their own, serving a screenplay that refuses to sermonise or to let us look away.

Detroit isn't perfect. But you will never forget, or regret, that you have seen it. Bravo.

Dominion Post

 
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