Katheryn Bigelow’s Detroit places the viewer in the shoes of the victims and the perpetrators of the war torn neighbourhood of Detroit and forces you to feel every ounce they experience. But does this sullen drama get everything right? Well, let’s dissect that.
Detroit takes place during the 1967 raids and riots in the streets and neighbourhoods of Detroit, in this we are taken into the perspective of multiple characters as their lives converge during the night at a Hotel.
This entire film is based around the riots and the consequential corruption that was so prevalent during that time period, as well as the unrestricted power that the Detroit police department let loose. From the extreme racism to the blatant disregard for human life, this film presents us with a horrible scenario as it unfolds in all its gory details. The film takes place mostly over a day and night – starting with an early morning riot and finishing with a raid of a hotel. A unique part of this film was its decision to jump between character perspectives – e.g. a police perspective, then a civilian perspective (or victim to perpetrator) for different periods of time as the film builds to one single event that brings all the characters together at the hotel. While this film is based on a true story, if you aren’t aware of its background then I wouldn’t recommend reading up on it until after you’ve seen the film.
While I appreciate the bulk of the film, sadly one of the films more natural flaws is the fact that majority of the story is based around events that were never entirely proven or disproven in the court of law; it therefore restricts the filmmaking to an extent – this left us with some plot holes throughout the film, understandable however, as it would be disingenuous for Bigelow to fictionalize events and situations that were not entirely proven to happen. Though she isn’t innocent in stretching certain truths, she openly states in a small paragraph before the credits roll that “many of the events portrayed throughout the film were exaggerated, however based on testimonies given by the victims and the evidence accumulated” – based on the insanity of that time, it wouldn’t shock me if it was all true. She does her best to make things ambiguous in some regards but the criminal acts perpetrated by the police in this film was extremely clear cut and ambiguity wasn’t necessary, the corruption of the police in that period was at an all time high and the cruelty was unmatched.
The performances from all the young actors felt authentic and true to the time, we get such an even divide of performances from different actors that it becomes difficult to say who really stands out as exceptional. Will Poulter who plays a corrupt cop and Algee Smith playing the role of a singer both had fantastic roles that show two stark ends of the spectrum – a striving musician looking towards the future and hoping for a better life, and a dirty and misguided young cop believing his moral authority holds more weight than everyone else’s. We see people of all shapes and sizes in this film, with different sets of morals, and different levels of personality – character development in that regard was brilliant.
The film’s most enticing attribute was its attention to detail in its set design and blending of real historical footage into the film – all the sets and costumes were brilliantly made and threw you directly into that time period, as it was refreshing to finally see something that isn’t set in the 80’s. The pacing of the film was certainly it’s weakest flaw, the film dragged heavily towards the end and still had moments of dragging peppered throughout despite not having an obscenely long runtime. Parts of the film were dragged out to increase intensity, and others were rushed through – overall the pacing of the film was the result of a story that could have been resolved fairly quickly.
This film isn’t perfect, but nonetheless Bigelow has created a story that stops and makes you think about how misguided the world was back then, and how sane the world is now – many can relate things back to today’s society in many ways, but in the end, this is just the telling of one story, from one night, in one street, and with it being just that, it does a brilliant job at capturing the state of Detroit at that time.