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Detroit - a difficult film to watch and a lesson for today


Time magazine described Kathryn Bigelow's 2008 film, The Hurt Locker as a "near perfect film". It's hard to disagree as it went on to win six Oscars including Best Picture and Best Screenplay for Mark Boal. Bigelow and Boal went on to collaborate again for 2012's Zero Dark Thirty, again receiving critical acclaim and one Oscar. So it was with excitement and goodwill that I went to see Detroit to see if the dynamic duo of Bigelow and Boal could work their magic again.

I was not disappointed. Detroit is a superb piece of story-telling with incredible editing by William Goldberg who picked up the Best Editing Oscar for 2012's Argo. One often forgets how an editor can influence a film; it's feel, look, pacing, etc. We know Goldberg is no stranger to action, tense editing plus the interweaving of actuality in to his editing. For Detroit, he scores again. Forgive me for focusing on editing, but for me, it was one of the successes of the film and should not be underestimated or under-appreciated. This is a strong contender for another Oscar for Goldberg.

Based on actual events and people, the film tells the story of how a police raid on an after-hours party in Detroit in 1967 resulted in one of the largest race riots in United States history. The story is centred around the Algiers Motel incident, which occurred on July 25, 1967, during the racially charged 12th Street Riot. It involves the death of three black men and the brutal beatings of nine other people: seven black men and two white women. Fro the initial police raid through the build-up of the riots and the looting, to the actual events at the Algiers motel, to the subsequent charging and trial of three police officers, their acquittal and the after effects on the lives of the key characters, this is a troy that needed to be told. It is painful, nay difficult to watch in places. Bigelow does not shy away from putting the heart-wrenching, visceral brutality and naked racism right in front of our faces.

John Boyega, keen to shed any hint of Star Wars typecasting, gives a powerful, if muted performance as a local security guard who gets embroiled in the events at the Algiers Motel. He goes from advocate to helpless bystander and ultimate patsy, upon whom the Detroit police try to place the blame for the murders carried out by their own officers. It is a measured performance and identifies him as a singular acting talent of a new generation.

Anthony Mackie also gives a stand-out performance. Known for playing Falcon in the Marvel films: Avengers, Capt America: Civil War, etc. I had placed him in a box of competent but not an actor of note or substance. I was wrong. His performance here is worthy of a supporting actor nod at next year's Oscars.

English actor, Will Poulter plays the villain of the film, if there is such a thing in a city so demonstrably racist. Poulter's unhinged performance is magnificent as he unashamedly displays his racist attitudes, through his brutality and subjugation of the victims in the Algiers Motel, right up to his realisation he may have over-stepped the mark and his subsequent attempts at cover-up is the locus of the film. Poulter carries it off and Bigelow's close-ups of him as he displays his bigotry are breathtaking.

I could write a lot more about this film: it's cast and crew, the plot, the pacing, the moral but I will, uncharacteristically, leave it there except to say that it is a difficult film to watch, but necessary. In these sexist, misogynistic, racist, Trumpian times, films like this deserve to be shown to everyone, nay everyone should be made watch and feel uncomfortable.

A staggering film.


 

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