Detroit is the new historical film about the Detroit riots of 1967, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, famous for her work on Near Dark and The Hurt Locker. She brings a sense of hopelessness and terror to the screen that grips the viewer and doesn’t let go. The film begins by placing the viewer directly in the center of the chaos and destruction, combining archival footage and staged scenes early on and at the conclusion to create a riveting and intense atmosphere throughout.
The film opens with slightly misplaced scenes of text and stylized animations that depict the situation leading up to the riots, which is visually pleasing but could have possibly come across stronger as plain white text on a black background. As the film continues, it sets up a few different characters in multiple situations that eventually come together in the Algiers Motel where the bulk of this film takes place. This is where the tension and feelings of anger and hopelessness truly manifest themselves as the protagonists are subjected to unnecessary intimidation and torture by the leader of a group of white police officers, played by Will Poulter-- who, with his devil-like appearance, fit the character's role and compliment the film nicely.
As the film takes its time to show the viewer every gruesome and horrifying detail of the event, one solitary black security guard, played by John Boyega, stands by and watches in horror as he is powerless to do anything; he is overcome with disbelief that the system he works for is capable of producing officers that are unbelievably evil towards their fellow humans. The victims of this atrocity, specifically the characters played by Anthony Mackie, Hannah Murray, and Agee Smith, truly give the situation an unearthly feel and fit into the roles given to them so well that it is as if they encompass their characters. As the officers are shown to not have any sympathy towards either race after the two white women are intimidated and physically beaten in a room alone, along with all the other men facing the wall in the first floor motel hallway.
Credit should also be given where credit is due as Bigelow and cinematographer Barry Ackroyd bathe the motel and crucial scenes leading up to the event in perpetual darkness, with only the orange glow from the fires and street lights outside as lighting. There is also an extensive use of practical lighting situations and a brilliant implementation of chiaroscuro lighting when out on the streets and in motel rooms night.
With a strong cast and fitting cinematography, combined with an extremely tense moment in our nation's history, Detroit paints a bleak and maddening view of the riots and the awful events which transpired in the motel. Despite the out of place introduction and sense of aimlessness following the conclusion of the trial, it is a film that should not slip under the radar and instead be sought out at the tail end of this summer season.