I don’t know if all of you appreciate the struggles I go through to decide on what movies I am going to see and review. Amongst my faith there can be a lot of backlash and judgement towards people who see rated R movies. There’s a certain stigma attached to them, which I think is stupid. Anyway, when I do see them (and PG-13s for that matter) I like them to be worthwhile and edifying. Particularly historical films I find valuable and necessary to portray violence as it happened (for example, war is violent by its very nature but important to know about).
I try my best to research a film and then talk to friends and family who have seen it and make a decision. Sometimes that doesn’t pan out well like with Nocturnal Animals but most of the time it works out. Tonight’s film was one of those positive examples. I finally put on my big girl pants and saw Kathryn Bigelow’s new movie Detroit. This is a tough film to watch, but I’m glad I saw it.
Detroit tells the story of the torture of mostly black men at the Algers Hotel during the Detroit riots in 1967 by police officers looking into a reported sniper shooting. They line the captives up and intimidate, beat and kill them and it is tough to watch. There’s nowhere for the young men to go and no source of law that they can turn to because the law is the problem or at least part of the problem
I’m not going to pretend like I know whether the events portrayed are historically accurate. Some have complained about it like The Huffington Post saying it is ‘the most irresponsible and dangerous movie of the year’. They have their reasons and I’m not going to argue with them. I also wouldn’t argue with someone who felt it didn’t portray the black experience or racism of police officers correctly. That is not my place.
What I can speak to is my reaction to the movie. So, putting all that aside, Kathryn Bigelow has made a movie that immediately immerses the viewer in a situation, which feels real. In a world where we still have so many of these problems there is value in seeing and living in the shoes of those who experience police coercion and racism.(There is a good cop, the police chief, so it isn’t completely one-sided).
And even more chilling is seeing the court proceedings after the incident and how justice is not served to those you’ve just seen suffer. I think living in that space for a couple hours did me some good and gave me more empathy for others. How can that be a bad thing?
Detroit is very well made by Kathryn Bigelow and while it is very violent it didn’t feel exploitative. I think partly because it feels more like a documentary than a narrative in a way. You don’t get to know the characters that well. It’s kind of like Dunkirk in that regard. You know the characters in Detroit more than Dunkirk but not by much. It’s an immersive experience meant to make you feel and empathize with the characters more than manipulate you with narrative. After having a horrible experience with manipulative narrative yesterday this was actually kind of refreshing.
With the exception of a hard core racist cop played by Will Poulter the script is free of flashy moments and big speeches. All the acting is top notch including John Boyega, Jack Reynor, Anthony Mackie, Algee Smith and Jason Mitchell. The intimate cinematography and music also is very effective.
I have a few nitpicks in Detroit. The animated sequence at the beginning felt added on last minute and John Krasinski didn’t quite work as the defense attorney for the racist cops. It’s also maybe a hair too long with some of the beginning that could have been cut down. But those are small things.
Overall, if you have the stomach for some violence and profanity, Detroit is worth seeing if only for the conversations it should start with questions we need to be asking each other. Again, I just don’t see how that is a bad thing? I’m glad I saw it and I’m grateful to Kathryn Bigelow for making it.
Overall Grade- A-