Screen Entertainment

The searing strength of ‘Detroit’

Reuniting Zero Dark Thirty's team of director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal proves to be potent for Detroit.

Centred around the summer of 1967 and the riots which hit the Motor City's African-American population, Bigelow's film finds its focus in one pivotal moment - a hotel raid which spirals out of control, with police abusing their power.

John Boyega (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) plays a security guard, treading a dangerous line between keeping the cops on side and sympathising and saving others from being caught in the riot; while Will Poulter (Son of Rambow) plays a cop whose momentary lapse early on, when he shoots a fleeing man in the back, seems to set his moral compass distinctly awry.

The film uses its NYPD Blue-style shaky cam to good effect early on, throwing you slap bang into the middle of the riots, and the urgency and danger of the situation. But the film hits the skids to centre its actions on the Algiers Hotel, and sacrifices the space it's created for a claustrophobic and unflinchingly difficult section within.

Against a backdrop of Motown uniting people and then suddenly dividing those caught within, the discomfort is palpable, even if one of the cops within the actual event feels like a lazy stereotype. It's a shame, given the work done in the run up to the event, with Poulter's character feeling a little more multi-faceted than his closeted hatred would demonstrate.

While the back half of the film, its PTSD approach, and subsequent trial feel a little more disjointed and discombobulated, its first half, warzone and all, is painful watching made ever more disgusting by the fact this is no fiction, but a reality that occurred.

Detroit's searing strength lies in its mid-section execution, an interlude of pure hatred and abuse of power that's so tautly executed, it feels like a modern day horror sequence guaranteed to leave you with your mouth agog in horror.

Ultimately, it's the little moments and the ripples of after effects in Detroit which make it, for the large part, so compelling.

Perhaps timely given the social divides we currently face, and being equivocally appalling, Detroit's light-the-touchpaper-and-stand-back execution of events makes it a livewire film that only slightly fizzes in the back third. 

Cast: John Boyega, Will Poulter, Hannah Murray, Kaitlyn Dever
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Classification: R16
Running time: 143 minutes

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