Starring: John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Running Time: 143 mins
Detroit is an American film about the events that unfolded in the city of Detroit in the summer of 1967, when African-American citizens broke out in rioting and looting in protest of civil rights abuses, turning the city into a war zone, and pitting brutal police officers against innocent civilians.
The Detroit riots were a terrifying series of events. Not only because of the large-scale violence that erupted in a major city, but because of the context that led up to it, consistent abuses of African-Americans’ civil rights that led to an explosion of frustration, bringing already strained race relations to an incredibly tense head.
With that said, this film isn’t quite the perfect depiction of that. Although it eventually proves a fascinating detailing of the outcome of such important events, it takes a really long time to get to anything particularly passionate or truly riveting, and that’s what makes it a slightly underwhelming watch for a long period.
It’s a trend that you can see through a number of Kathryn Bigelow’s films, building a historically interesting (albeit not so emotionally exhilarating), background for a more passionate and ultimately exhilarating finale. Zero Dark Thirty is a little bit of a drag before its final act, and The Hurt Locker fluctuates between pure drama and simply pure history.
With that said, the opening of Detroit isn’t all that bad. Quickly landing you in the chaos of the city in the moments that the unrest erupts, Bigelow gives you a good sense of what’s at stake on a wider scale, before launching into the more specific events that the film chooses to detail.
However, that’s where things start to fall a little flat for Detroit. For one, despite centring on a more specific set of events, the film really lacks clarity, and it’s that that makes it a lot harder to be truly invested in. Despite understanding the wider background of racial tensions in the period, it’s difficult to understand exactly why the specific events you’re watching are happening.
In part, that definitely comes down to the fact that the film doesn’t have a main character for the most part, switching between various characters in the opening act, before they all converge in the same place. As a result, there’s no real emotional centre to grab onto when the spectre of racism and injustice becomes a lot more personal in the film’s middle act, making what should be a powerful and pulsating centrepiece a lot more underwhelming than you’d expect.
Unfortunately, the film doesn’t really manage to recognise the issue, leaving for a near hour-long middle act to really drag on instead of instil the sense of terror and pure injustice that should be at the very centre of a truly horrifying event. Although well-directed by Bigelow and featuring strong performances across the board, the film’s middle act just isn’t that strong, and the fact that it’s set up as such a huge centrepiece to the entire movie makes it feel all the more disappointing.
With that said, it does at least set the stage for a fascinating and finally passionate finale, in which we see the main players from the events of the second act being investigated by the justice system, and it’s a chance for you to get really emotionally engaged in the story, as you want to see the villains of the story get their comeuppance and see justice done, even though it may seem difficult in an era where such brutal racism was so unfortunately commonplace.
Overall, I did like Detroit. It does take a very long time to get into the right frame of mind, failing to really grab you on an emotional level that’s necessary to portray the importance of the historical events, but it comes on very strong in the end, whilst consistently impressive performances from the entire cast and strong directing from start to finish make it an engaging, albeit not quite so hard-hitting, historical drama, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.5.