- Product Rating -


| November 30, 2017

Let me start this off by saying that, being a white guy whose middle name is literally Christian, I’m not totally the person to speak about the issues of this film. That out of the way, I wasn’t expecting to have been so disappointed in Detroit, in terms of pacing and characterization, yes, but especially in terms of morality. Content like this is clearly within Kathryn Bigelow’s wheelhouse, but does that really mean that she should be the person to tell this story? My answer would be no, given that the movie is bereft of insight.

Technically, it’s proficient—its editing and lack of music help create a sense of place and atmosphere. However, Detroit is not a movie that cares about the issues tied to ending black lives; it’s a movie that’s interested in beating and shooting black bodies. With Mark Boal’s script and Bigelow’s direction, shallow characters and commentary make the film’s amorality often shift to immorality, wearing a thin guise of faux-liberalism when it’s really exploitation.

After a storybook-styled animation sequence recounting black people moving up north during and after the Civil War, the film recounts the Detroit riots of 1967 and the ensuing siege at the Algiers Motel over one night. Executed partially as a horror film and partially as a social drama, it isn’t really important which genre comes out on top at the end of the day, because this movie is really just obsessed with execution in the most literal sense of the word.

While I’m clearly in the minority in terms of my reaction to this movie’s ethics, there are some aspects that I, more objectively speaking, have to appreciate. Bigelow’s rawness that she’s come to focus on for a majority of her career remains as gritty as ever, and the performances are surprisingly good for the most part, most that of Will Poulter as a psychopathic, racist, and utterly despicable police officer.

However, that brings me to my first issue: why is the movie so intent on spending so much time with a character who’s clearly meant to be horrific? Why does this person act as the face of the film, with the victims being underdeveloped and often times sidelined? Forget the fact that actors like John Boyega and Anthony Mackie are reduced to being witnesses to a traumatic event; the rest of the people of color are still seen as punching bags that scream and pray on command. The movie is repetitive in tone and content and is almost two and a half hours, which, given the film’s shallowness, is almost entirely unjustified and feels like a last-ditch effort to cement the fact that Detroit is an “important” movie. Not only is it numbing, but it’s unpleasant in a way so far from the intended manner.

Framing so much of the carnage from racist police officers with no sense of sympathy could have possibly been fascinating in order to provide a dissonance between the depraved characters and the (hopefully) righteous audience, but Detroit has nothing to say. As a result, Boal and Bigelow are essentially crafting a product that’s the cinematic equivalent of sharing a Facebook post from Black Lives Matter and immediately claiming a sense of moral superiority. There’s so little said here, and the laziness is quite stunning at times.

This is a movie where the attempts at providing shading between good and bad characters manifest themselves in a black man escaping from a situation of brutality and a white officer saying, “Oh, how could someone do this to someone!” and “Don’t go on me, brother!” as he shuffles him into the back of his squad car to go to the hospital. After people are killed and maimed, the movie doesn’t try to look at the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder; it just settles for a scene where two characters discuss the power of music in the role of coping. And then towards the end of the movie, during a lengthy courtroom scene, John Krasinski shows up in the role of an attorney interrogating those involved and looks and sounds just like Jim Halpert while impersonating Dwight Schrute.

If anything, Detroit just goes to show how detrimental it can be when a project is so glaringly misguided. When the movie comes to its music-guided end montage and goes to the title cards filling in the audience on what happened to the real-life people afterwards, it admits that the events in the Algiers Motel were not conclusively settled and that portions of the film in its most graphic parts were made up. So, there you go.

About the Author:

Senior year film student at Columbia College Chicago, Hollywood Film Festival pre-screener, and Best Social Media Presence for North Farmington High School's 2014 senior mock elections. Firmly believes that ".gif" is pronounced "jiff".
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