Thursday, 31 August 2017

Detroit Film Review

Apologies for the delay in posting my Detroit film review that I saw earlier this week. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow and focusing on a brief and bloody event during the race riots of 1967 Detroit. The film is the first of the big Oscar contenders.

Detroit has swollen as disenfranchised African Americans have moved North to work in it's factories. But tension flares as they are kept segregated within the City.


Starring an impressive ensemble including John Boyega, unrecognisable these days since his break out role in Attack The Block, as security guard Melvin Dismukes, holding down two jobs and called in to work a double shift as a security guard protecting a grocery store. The three day riot has kicked off after a botched and unnecessary bust of a speakeasy. Holding the line are the Detroit Police, the Michigan State Police, the Army and the National Guard.

Will Poulter is another actor unrecognisable in his role as Detroit cop Philip Krauss. But unlike John Boyega there is no charm in his role. Krauss shoots a looter in the back and when he dies his Police Chief tells him he is seeking a murder charge. But Krauss is still allowed back out on the street.

And also out that night are The Dramatics, a Motown style group hoping for their big break. With lead singer Larry Reed played by Algee Smith, and denied their chance when the theatre they are showcasing in is closed for safety. Caught up in the riots they separate, and Larry, along with Jacob Latimore who plays Fred the young brother of one of the band members, decide to take a room at the Algiers Motel and wait until the streets are clear.



A party gets out of hand and a starting pistol is fired, setting off a chain of events that ends in bloody murder. Officer Krauss along with Officers Flynn played by Ben O’Toole, and Demens played by Jack Reynor, decide to have some fun. They terrorise the party guests who deny any knowledge of a gun and a shooter. And although the true story was dramatised in the film I couldn't understand why no-one just said it was a starter pistol. To many of the law enforcement officers the events of the evening were barbaric but they left the motel and the guests to suffer the consequences of racism.

The lovely Anthony Mackie is accused of being a pimp with two white girls in town from Ohio. In fact he is a decorated Vietnam veteran pilot who had not met them before the night. But the police and a National Guard enjoy dehumanising the lined up guests, and taking them out and pretending to shoot them, to try to get someone to talk. When finally they realise they have taken the game too far they let the guests go, and ask that they never speak of the night's events.

But the Algiers Motel murders are front page news and the three cops arrested. Lawyer John Krasinki defending them along with the unfairly arrested John Boyega.

At nearly 150 minutes long the film whistled along. It's so difficult to imagine what life was like in those days, and what life is like now for African Americans. I know much has been spoken about having a white woman direct such a seminal moment in black history, but I'm not sure it matters who tells the story, as long as the story is told.

At the end of the film we are told what happened to those involved. And it was so sad to see that Larry, who Algee Smith plays quite brilliantly, couldn't handle the trauma, and his dreams of singing stardom ended. He still sings in a Detroit church choir.

A terrific fast moving film with a very bitter after taste.


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