The link between racism and unlawful police brutality never seems to leave the headlines, and this makes Kathryn Bigelow's latest film, the true story of the murder of three black men in 1967, a relevant topic today. The fact that Detroit is set 50 years ago serves to illustrate how little America has moved on with regard to race relations.
Set to the backdrop of the Detroit race riots, the film's opening sequences paint a striking picture of a city in violent chaos, but its broad scope soon gives way to a more focused telling of police brutality against a small group of youths.
Larry (Algee Smith) is a burgeoning singer on the cusp of a record signing. One night at the Algiers Motel, Larry and his friend Fred cross paths with some youths goofing around with a starter pistol. With riot tensions high, the paranoid and trigger-happy authorities move in to "quell" what they believe is a sniper.
Bigelow's restless camera jitters and shakes its way around the scenes with a kinetic momentum that perpetuates the mood and tension of a powder keg ready to blow. It's an exhausting watch.
The black community's fear of a predominantly white police force is palpable, although the film stops short of being a complete diatribe against white authority - its main antagonist, Krauss (Will Poulter), is portrayed as an unhinged policeman drunk on power rather than being representative of white motivations. Ultimately, it is the judicial system that comes under the film's moral scrutiny.
Unfortunately, Bigelow's literary muse, Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty) has delivered a screenplay that falls short of his usual high standards, as moments of Bigelow-esque brilliance are dulled by overdrawn scenes that become repetitive and tiresome.
Nonetheless, Detroit remains an unnerving illustration of a dark period in American history that deserves to be seen.
Algee Smith, John Boyega, Will Poulter
R16 (Violence, cruelty & offensive language)
A worthy watch, if exhausting
Did You Know?
The Saw horror franchise was supposed to wrap up with 2010's Saw 3D: The Final Chapter. After considering a series reboot for a number of years, the studio instead decided to continue telling Jigsaw's story, and gave him top billing for the very first time.