Detroit is an intense movie which will have you thinking and talking about it way after the movie ends. I’m giving it an A-.
Set among the backdrop of the 1967 Detroit riots, director, Kathryn Bigelow, and screenwriter, Mark Boal tell the story of the incident at the Algier’s Motel annex on July 25, 1967, where seven black men and two white women were tortured by law enforcement. Detroit begins with a Jacob Lawrence painting montage showing how the African American’s came from the south to Detroit as well as some of the events of the Harlem Renaissance and Great Migration. (For those not familiar, Jacob Lawrence was a well-known African American artist of the early 20th century.)
Opening with the events at the blind pig which spark the riots, Detroit quickly escalates from rock throwing to Molotov cocktails. As the city burns around them, the Detroit Police are under-manned and the State Police and National Guard are called in. This was a dark time in Detroit’s history. Looting and vandals were destroying the very neighborhoods they called home, despite the urging from people like John Conyers and other leaders. During this short period of time, the lawlessness bled over into the Algiers’s Hotel.
Ms. Bigelow focuses on two characters throughout the movie, Larry Cleveland (played by Algee Smith), an up and coming Motown singer and security guard (played by John Boyega), Dismukes. Both are men with dreams and the ability to make them come true. However, their stories are forever changed after that night at the Algiers.
Believing shots to have been fired from a sniper at the hotel, the police and National Guard investigate, shooting up the place and rounding up the nine suspects. Most of the movie focuses on this event as three white Detroit cops and one black security guard try to get the story from the nine suspects. Violence, from beatings and threats to accusations and mind games, is played on the suspects in order to get them to tell about the gun, which was never found. These moments on screen are difficult to watch and are very graphic.
Three young men less than 20 years old are dead. The last part of the movie focuses on what happens following that night. The three police officers and security guard are put on trial, but are acquitted. We finally see what happened to the suspects and how their lives were forever torn apart.
The movie has some amazing characters but we don’t get to see the inner thoughts they dealt with during the situation. The cops are portrayed as all racist as well, the riots only serve as a backdrop rather than the focus of the movie. Viewers don’t get to understand why the people were burning down their homes. And while the characters were fabulous actors, in many cases they were too old for the people they were playing. Jason Mitchell (age 30), played Carl, a 17-year-old victim. Had the actors been a little closer to the correct age, the movie would have had more impact as these were just kids, not adults.
All in all, a powerful movie which sheds light on a time in Detroit’s history. Many viewers still recall seeing the tanks driving down Woodward Ave. or feared for their families. But like many true stories, this movie remains a dramatization with some inaccuracies since the director and writer used a conglomeration of people to create the evil police officers, since the real ones were acquitted of any charges.
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