Sometimes it's very difficult to separate feelings for a movie and evaluate it on a technical level. Everyone has a movie or two that they love because it made them feel so much. Some people look back on them and realize that those might not have been the best films. I'm hoping that Detroit isn't one of those films.
The story of Detroit is about the murder of three black men by the hands of police in a hotel during the Detroit riots in the 60’s, and the film follows a couple characters. Dismukes (John Boyega), a security guard for hire, who happens to work around the area at the time and decides to get involved to help people; Larry (Algee Smith) and Fred (Jacob Latimore), musician and friend respectively, who happen to stay at the hotel; and beat cops Krauss (Will Poulter), Demens (Jack Reynor) and Flynn (Ben O’Toole), the people responsible for murdering the black men.
I felt more tension in Detroit than I did in Dunkirk, which to most people might be taking the lord Nolan’s name in vain, but I feel like Kathryn Bigelow sets the stage a little better. She shows you the main players and lets you get to know them before shit hits the fan, which is what I like in a thriller. Granted she is working with a longer running time than Nolan, almost 45 more minutes, but I never felt it. Nolan made less feel like more, and Bigelow made more feel like less, but not in bad ways.
Going back to the comparison, Bigelow gives more time in the beginning to set up than Nolan, using her longer run time to show the world and how the riots escalate. Nolans approach was to drop you in the middle of the action and have you figure it out along the way. Bigelows however is more drawn out, and yet her camera work and pacing is almost the opposite. Nolan uses a lot of still and wide shots, preferring to let the visuals speak for themselves, and Bigelow puts the camera close, and always handheld. Point being, two very different styles that make for very different movies, one I was way more into than the other. Bigelows, I was into Bigelows.
And then there's the acting. Oh my god the acting is fantastic. I never thought I could hate the kid from We’re the Millers, but Poulter did such a great job being a racist. Everyone was so convincingly scared of the cops that I legitimately feared for their safety. Bigelow shot most of the Algiers sequence in chronological order, which I feel is super helpful for actors to react convincingly and stay in character. Parts toward the end nearly had me in tears, too.
Now, this movie is a biopic of sorts. It pulls from documentation and people’s recollections of events, using real photos and video at certain points. But it is heavily dramatized, which works the film. I also has a better structure than most biopics, opting for more time on the main event rather than chronicling everything related to the shooting. It helps give a better flow to the movie.
I just wanted to touch on one last bit before I wrap up, but Detroit is definitely piggybacking off the current cop-hatred-zeitgeist. Now that’s not to say Bigelow is a terrible person for doing so, it happens all the time, but it’s just something I noticed. The ending will probably trigger a lot people who also get triggered by any news about horrible cops. Hopefully that makes a lot of people come and see the movie, though I would hate to be in the showing that turns into a riot.
Detroit is a must see. Hands down one of my favorite movies of the year. From the fantastic direction, solid to downright scary acting, and a story that’s as sad as it is needed, Detroit checks every box. And it has me thinking. Thinking “when am I going to see a movie that will finally justify the ‘Make It Stop’ title?” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯