After the success of “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty”, writer Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow team-up again with 12th Street Riots film, “Detroit”. Bigelow has proven that she knows how to effectively create horrific and intense film’s dealing with war and “Detroit” is no different. Unlike the international settings of her two previous projects, 1967 Detroit was a battle zone all its’ own.
The first half of “Detroit” is chaotic and volatile. We see the springboard to the riot when an unlicensed saloon is raided by the police and the angry neighborhood folks decide to rebel. From that point on, the riot grows out of control. “Detroit” then begins to center on various characters. Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega) is a nighttime security guard, who is working double-shifts trying to keep the stores that hire him from falling victim to looters. He goes so far as to bringing soldiers on the streets coffee in hopes that they keep the gunfire away from the shop. We also have rookie officer Philip Krauss (Will Poulter) who has an itchy trigger finger and has no problem shooting unarmed men-of-color in the back who run away. These are the first characters that we get to know in the midst of the devastation.
Another group we come across is a Motown-hopeful group who must flee the theater right before they are set to perform due to the riots outside. Two of the members make their way to the Algiers Motel and this is where “Detroit” begins to change and not for the better. The story becomes less about the city riot and more of a historical home invasion film with the sociopathic officer Krauss and his partners holding a group of terrified people hostage.
Poulter and Boyega are both terrific here but when the film begins to focus on this small group of people, it loses some of the impact the first hour delivered. I won’t say that the scenes within the Algiers Motel don’t work because for the most part, they do. The problem is that the more intimate events feel like they belong in a different film.
Despite my issues, there is still a lot of powerful stuff in “Detroit” and Bigelow continues to impress as a filmmaker after nearly four decades behind the camera. This may not be on the same level as her two previous films but if you are someone who likes historical dramas, this might be one you will want to check out.
By: Marc Ferman