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Detroit Movie Review

Detroit (2017) movie poster Detroit

Theatrical Release: July 28, 2017 / Running Time: 143 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Kathryn Bigelow / Writer: Mark Boal

Cast: John Boyega (Melvin Dismukes), Will Poulter (Philip Krauss), Algee Smith (Larry Reed), Jacob Latimore (Fred Temple), Jason Mitchell (Carl Cooper), Hannah Murray (Julie Ann), Kaitlyn Dever (Karen), Jack Reynor (Demens), Ben O'Toole (Flynn), Nathan Davis, Jr. (Aubrey), Peyton Alex Smith (Lee), Malcolm David Kelley (Michael Clark), Joseph David-Jones (Morris), Laz Alonso (Congressman Conyers), Ephraim Sykes (Jimmy), Leon Thomas III (Darryl), Gbenga Akinnagbe (Aubrey Pollard, Sr.), Chris Chalk (Officer Frank), Jeremy Strong (Attorney Lang), Austin Hιbert (Warrant Officer Roberts), Miguel Pimentel (Malcolm), Khris Davis (Blind Pig Patron), John Krasinski (Attorney Auerbach), Anthony Mackie (Robert Greene)


Winning major Oscars doesn't necessarily mean that your career will be closely watched by the Academy and the industry at large moving forward. But there aren't many filmmakers who win big and largely disappear, like The Deer Hunter's Michael Cimino did or The Artist's Michel Hazanavicius probably will.
Director Kathryn Bigelow was seasoned but not on Academy radars when she made The Hurt Locker, the little contemporary war drama that defied history to win the 2009 Academy Award for Best Picture. Mark Boal, the film's screenwriter, who likewise won the Best Original Screenplay award, was in his mid-30s and had only one prior credit to his name.

Bigelow and Boal would reteam three years later on Zero Dark Thirty, a film whose subject matter, major studio backing, and timing made it arrive to buzz, hopes, and expectations. That docudrama on the search for Osama bin Laden was ultimately subjected to some bizarre backlash on its depictions of torture as a viable CIA tactic. That might have been a factor for Argo swooping in and winning 2012's Best Picture even without Ben Affleck getting nominated for Best Director.

Though Zero Dark Thirty did not win anything significant at what was the most enjoyable Oscar race in recent memory, it did enforce Bigelow and Boal as not just a one-time lightning in a bottle success, but a creative team to be reckoned with. The director and writer's latest collaboration, Detroit, applies the same docudrama tone of Zero to a far less recent and well-known event: a standoff between police and civilians that occurred as part of the Motor City's race-fueled riots of July 1967.

In "Detroit", a racist police officer (Will Poulter) questions innocent African-Americans including this aspiring singer (Jacob Latimore).

A mildly pedestrian opening animation explains how in the aftermath of the Civil War, African-Americans moved away from the Southern plantations where they found work and into northern cities at the promise of better civil rights. Then we see how the riots in Detroit broke out, beginning with police targeting black establishments operating without liquor licenses.

We are familiarized with a number of characters on both sides of the standoff. They include Krauss (Will Poulter), an openly racist and unprofessional cop who shoots in the back a fleeting young black male who has looted a grocery store. The youth proceeds to bleed to death, bringing Krauss some stern rebuking from his superiors. And yet, he's still on duty when another black male (Straight Outta Compton's Jason Mitchell) fires a toy race starter pistol from a third floor room of the Algiers Motel at the cops who are stationed across the street.

Krauss and two others (Ben O'Toole and Jack Reynor) question the occupants of the hotel, all but two of them young black males. The other two are young white females (Hannah Murray and Kaitlyn Dever) who have been socializing with the black males, which earns them almost as much scorn from the police. With National Guard, State Police, and Detroit Police all in the vicinity, Krauss leads the efforts to try and determine who was shooting at the cops and where the weapon might be.

Nearly the entirety of the film details the uncomfortable experience, which practically plays out in real time. Other perspectives belong to Melvin Dismukes (Star Wars: The Force Awakens' John Boyega), a young security guard who finds himself unloved by both law officers and his fellow African Americans; and two aspiring musicians (Algee Smith and Jacob Latimore) whose potentially big breakthrough gig got cancelled by police.

John Boyega (of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens") plays Melvin Dismukes, a well-intentioned security guard the film paints as being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Detroit is consistently involving and at times quite riveting. Its depiction of an event you almost certainly don't know about appears to take the same meticulously researched approach
that Boal gave the remarkable Zero Dark Thirty. But text screens prior to the closing credits confirm the doubts you might have at certain head-scratching turns in the story. Turns out there isn't really a definitive account of what happened that night in Detroit, requiring Boal and Bigelow to thus recreate it from testimonies that don't exactly add up. That undermines what is otherwise a stirring portrait of tense race relations just days before In the Heat of the Night opened in America.

Detroit doesn't lend itself to the docudrama treatment nearly as well as the director's superior previous effort. Its tale is frustrating and infuriating, like an alternate version of Zero Dark Thirty where bin Laden remained at large or perhaps got away with paying a fine. It's also timely, when hardly a day goes by without police-civilian relations being called out and "Black Lives Matter" being a movement that has no reason to disappear anytime soon.

Detroit marks the first film distributed to theaters by Annapurna Pictures. Founded by Megan Ellison in 2011, Annapurna has thrived as a production company that has valued quality over commercial appeal. They've had some box office successes (Zero, American Hustle) and a number of misses (The Master, Foxcatcher, Her) that nonetheless still qualify as great movies. Their decision to launch with Detroit and release it wide in early August, a full month in advance of what is considered the real start of the Hollywood's half-year awards season, may warrant some questions. In recent years, The Help and Hell or High Water managed to open in August yet maintain enough steam to pick up Best Picture nominations the following January. Detroit could do the same, since most of this year's movies that have been better than it are ones that won't get more than possible technical category consideration from the Academy. But it could just as easily struggle to find an audience and be forgotten even more quickly than supposed early frontrunner The Birth of a Nation was last year.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: Dunkirk • Atomic Blonde • The Dark Tower • Spider-Man: Homecoming • Baby Driver
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow: Zero Dark Thirty
John Boyega: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Will Poulter: We're the Millers • The Revenant • The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader • Son of Rambow
The Help • Get Out • Lee Daniels' The Butler • Straight Outta Compton • Collateral Beauty • The Birth of a Nation

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Reviewed August 4, 2017.

Text copyright 2017 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2017 Annapurna Pictures, Harpers Ferry Productions, and Page 1 Productions.
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