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Detroit Review

By Matthew Passantino

Chaos Reigns in 'Detroit'

Kathryn Bigelow has the ability to place us in a moment in time, creating an immersive film-going experience. She has put us in the middle of the Iraq War, in her Oscar-winning "The Hurt Locker," and made us part of the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden in the masterful "Zero Dark Thirty." In her latest, "Detroit," we become part of the city's war zone during the 1967 riots and a captive of one particularly nightmarish night. Compared to her last two films, "Detroit" is a messy and occasionally meandering picture but is brimming with enough anger and discomfort to create a necessary experience.

The movie begins with a kinetic mosaic of the hot and sweaty summer of 1967 in Detroit, Michigan, where cops and citizens flooded the streets in droves. As it is important for Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal (who also penned "The Hurt Locker" and "Zero Dark Thirty") to set the scene, "Detroit" takes some time to gain momentum while we meet key players for later in the film.


Amidst the chaos, we meet Larry Reed (Algee Smith), the lead singer of The Dramatics, who are about to take the stage at the Fox Theater with the hopes of launching their career. Just before they are about to go on, the police clear the auditorium and advise everyone to go home and stay away from the mayhem outside. Disappointed, Larry and his friend Fred (Jacob Latimore), leave and take refuge at the Algiers Motel.

When they arrive at the Algiers, they meet a slew of people who have come together for the same reason. The ensemble cast is uniformly excellent, no matter the brevity of the role. Anthony Mackie co-stars as a recently discharged vet who becomes a target of suspicion because of his friendship with two white girls (Hannah Murray and Kaitlyn Dever). Jason Mitchell (who was terrific as Eazy-E in "Straight Outta Compton") plays Carl, an energetic troublemaker who fires a toy gun out a window, leading the Detroit Police, the National Guard, and one local security guard (John Boyega) to the Algiers on that fateful night.

Three Detroit police officers (Will Poulter, Jack Reynor, and Ben O'Toole) don't hesitate for a moment in heading to the Algiers, anticipating a sniper attack. Once they enter the motel, they begin to torture and terrorize the guests in a quest for the truth about the gunfire heard coming from the motel. Poulter's Krauss especially relishes in the power he holds over everyone standing against the wall. The untapped rage flowing out of Poulter is astonishing and terrifying in equal measure.

We spend about an hour at the Algiers, and "Detroit" has us firmly in its grasp during that time. The terror the officers inflict upon the guests is nauseating and frightening, but Bigelow doesn't shy away from her depiction of that night. Krauss is leading the charge all night, developing his own methods of interrogations, growing more menacing by the moment.

When the night at the Algiers is over, "Detroit" goes into the aftermath and subsequent trial, which does let a bit of air out of the tension that has built up. While necessary to include, the film's coda feels a bit extended past what was needed and parts do feel tacked on. At two hours and 23 minutes, "Detroit" is the first of Bigelow's recent films that could have used a little trimming to make its power concise and more impactful (and I say that as someone who loved every moment of the nearly 160-minute long "Zero Dark Thirty").

The unsettling takeaway from "Detroit" is its relevancy. Even though she is chronicling events from 50 years ago, Bigelow is holding a mirror up to today's world. Even though you'll leave "Detroit" exhausted, it will start a conversation - a conversation we've already had and one that we need to keep having.

What did you think?

Movie title Detroit
Release year 2017
MPAA Rating R
Our rating
Summary Kathryn Bigelow's "Detroit" is a messy but tense and necessary experience.
View all articles by Matthew Passantino
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