From Kathryn Bigelow, the award-winning director of The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, comes this gripping film based on the true story of one of the most terrifying secrets in American history. John Boyega (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) plays a security guard caught in the crossfire after a late-night police raid sparks a violent revolt that spirals out of control and turns the city into a war zone.
A brilliant ensemble cast including Will Poulter (The Revenant), Anthony Mackie (Captain America: Civil War) and Hannah Murray (Game of Thrones), portray the real-life people before, during and after this defining moment of their lives.
The only thing I knew about Detroit before watching it was that it was about riots and it was directed by the highly esteemed Kathryn Bigelow. As I was to discover, it is a gut wrenching film based on a true story about disturbing police brutality and civil unrest in 1960's Detroit.
It opens with animated paintings which gave me a brief history lesson of how African Americans migrated from the rural south towards an industrialised north and mid-west America. The political and opinionated text told me that poverty ridden urban ghettos offer a life where equality is "an illusion" and change is "inevitable". The film then starts by showing us a police raid that sparks the civil unrest and state troopers and guardsmen are sent into a "no man's land" to quell protesters and looters. The focus then shifts to several different groups of people scattered throughout the city of Detroit who then end up converging towards the Algiers motel which is later raided by police. The rogue cops are some of the most racist, disturbing and despicable characters I have ever seen.
John Boyega is brilliant as Melvin Dismukes, the security guard who is caught between his race and his uniform as he attempts to mediate between police brutality and tortured suspects, earning disdain and distrust from both sides. Algee Smith is also terrific as Cleveland Larry Reed, the lead singer of rising stars The Dramatics, who has to flee to the motel for safe haven. His portrayal of Reed perfectly captures the loss of innocence caused by the trauma and it's heartbreaking to see how being at the wrong place at the wrong time can have such devastating consequences.
The standout actor for me was Will Poulter who deserves an Oscar nomination for his performance as Phillip Krauss. Krauss is a fictional character that is inspired by the actions and recorded deeds of a Detroit policeman. He is a brutally violent, ruthless and crazy character that takes pot shots at looters under the pretext of protecting the neighbourhood. It is easy to despise him and in one distressing scene I was near to tears.
The cinematography gives us an up close and personal angle and handheld camera's placed me at the heart of the unfolding chaos. Sometimes it was a little too shaky and disorientating. The use of digital footage combined with archive material gave the film an almost documentary feel and sometimes I had to remember I was watching a film!
Apart from the distressing content of Detroit, this was a gripping and tense film. It's a shame that we haven't learnt from this incident and that police brutality is still an issue today. Definitely worth a watch!
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