Films on historical events tick with me, I often do a ton of research on the event being shown after the viewing just purely down to the motivation of knowing more. As soon as the trailer for Katherine Bigelow’s new project Detroit, I was absorbed into knowing more. Detroit is presented in a similar fashion to Bigelow’s other work such as The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, to set up the foundations of an auteur possibly? Whatever the case though, if you’re familiar with her work than Detroit will easily settle you in for the ride you’re about to take.
Although the trailers portray only one story, there are in fact three separate stories going on. The first being the Detroit riots itself, the second the events that occur at the Algiers motel and the trial that followed. Essentially these three stories are chasing justice and getting justice for the people victimized, mentally and physically tortured by the police.
Those who are seeing Detroit down to the rise in fame of John Boyega could be disappointed by the fact that his character Dismukes is shows as a bystander rather than a main character role, however this isn’t too disappointing as the story of the riots is just as if not more interesting, but for the amount of screen time he gets, Boyega delivers a performance that is sympathetic and just, exactly like a good cop, I thought he was one to watch out for when he debuted in Attack the Block and to see how in just a few years he’s gone from unknown to a big star is personally a joy to witness.
So, If John Boyega isn’t the main character, who is? It boils down to the characters of Larry, a soul singer (Algee Smith) and the police officer Krauss (Will Pouter). Larry’s character is very well-developed as he is at first a very loose character, upbeat and young, then after the events of the Algiers Motel, his transformation is one that is emotionally hard-hitting but has a unique pay off in the sense that the audience is happy enough with him being OK. Krauss on the other hand is the image of police brutality and racism, he and the other police officer make it easy for the audience to hate them through their unfair actions and the fact that they are single-minded to such a degree that any objections made is in one ear and out the other, so looking at that Will Pouter has more than earned his paycheck.
The subtle intensity keeps audience on the edge of their seats due to the nature of what the police are doing to intimidate the victims, in numerous scenes the police and national guard take a victim into a room and the question is whether they’re going to shoot the victim or not, although it is answered and it happens several times, that feeling continues, Bigelow’s direction is taken to a whole new level during these scenes.
Bigelow’s preferred cinematography style of getting a close as possible to the characters to show realism makes a return. Again, it’s very like Zero Dark Thirty so you already are aware of what angle the film is taking. the film captures more emotion but there are certain times that in its effort to capture emotion the camera zooms in too close to the character to the point where only their eye could be showing it blocks out the face so the only clues we have to how a character is feeling is sound which can never satisfy visual conformation.
One of the films oddities is when it begins with a sort of animation in the style of what a child might draw, a huge leap from the rest of the films tone, I do feel that it may not have been necessary because Katherine Bigelow is very good at setting events in the moment, which is why you never hear non-diagetic music because the film doesn’t want to distract you from being engrossed by the narrative. The only time events don’t take place in the moment is when the film submits to showing stock footage and photo’s which is also coincidentally the time when non-diagetic sound is used, but it still follows the path the tone has set, the opening animation unfortunately didn’t.
Yet Detroit still manages to be a very impactful film, I can see many people leave the cinema thinking “well, that just happened” which to me is the correct response to seeing Detroit. It is very much a justice seeking film, very patriotic and in the end, wishes to scrape any righteousness it can find. Katherine Bigelow keeps on getting better and she’ll easily gain more fans of her work and very easily can achieve the elite level of cinematic auteur.