Detroit

Year: 2017
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Starring: John Boyega, Anthony Mackie, Algee Smith, Will Poulter, Jason Mitchell, Jack Reynor, Hannah Murray

Written by Fiona Underhill

On paper, this film has many elements that appeal to me; a female director, set in 1960s America, a true story set during the Civil Rights era and actors (particularly two British stars) who I like. I also visited the city of Detroit in January of this year and when I first heard of this film a few months ago, I thought it could be among the best of the year. Unfortunately, I was left frustrated and disappointed by this film. 

The film begins by showing the unrest and rioting in the city of Detroit in 1967. We focus in on several characters; Larry (Algee Smith) and Fred (Jacob Latimore), members of a band trying to make it big in Motown, Dismukes (John Boyega) is a factory worker and security guard, juggling several jobs while trying to keep his head down and stay out of the trouble bubbling up around him and white police officers Krauss (Will Poulter), Flynn (Ben O’Toole) and Demens (Jack Reynor – following his breakout roles in ‘Sing Street’ and ‘Free Fire’). While trying to make it home after an aborted gig, Larry and Fred take refuge at the Algiers Hotel and there they meet two white girls; Julie (Hannah Murray) and Karen (Kaitlyn Dever). The rioting has reached the stage where there is a curfew and there is a heavy military presence on the streets. It is in this highly-charged environment that some young black men, horsing around, decide to fire a toy gun out of one of the hotel windows. This, of course, gives the police an excuse to invade the hotel, round up everyone there and start interrogating them, using methods of torture.

The true story behind this film is fascinating, particularly in the context of black American history and the current reality of black people experiencing police brutality, with the white cops getting off scott-free. However, director Kathryn Bigelow somehow manages to make the story feel long and boring. It is definitely pacing and editing that are the biggest flaws here. It feels like it takes a long time for the film to get to the events at the Algiers, then the main event (which is an extended sequence of brutal torture and murder) feels like it goes on forever, THEN, by far the worst section takes place AFTER this – when the narrative structure just seems to go haywire. The whole film felt like it was at least twice as long as it actually was and this is a disservice to the real people involved.

It’s a shame because the acting is mostly fantastic. I have watched Will Poulter’s career closely since he was in one of my favourite films, ‘Son of Rambow’. He plays an evil character extremely well here. Bizarrely, one of the biggest stars, Anthony Mackie (currently playing Falcon in the MCU) has a relatively small role; as a Vietnam veteran who happens to be the one caught in the same room as the two white girls – making him one of the main targets for the police. However, his character is not given any backstory before we get to the Algiers, so he feels like a tacked-on side character. I feel for Boyega, who seems to have had several misfires since showing such potential in ‘Attack the Block’, then exploding as an international star in ‘The Force Awakens’. His characters in both ‘The Circle’ and now this have NOT served him well. Dismukes should be the most fascinating character here, he enters the scene at the hotel ostensibly on the cop’s side. However, he makes some questionable and unbelievable choices and the way his character is handled after the night in the hotel is confusing and muddled. John Krasinski (again, a pretty big star) enters the film right at the end, as a lawyer hired by the police union to defend the racist cops. Smith and Latimore are great finds as probably the ‘central’ characters – they are the ones we follow most closely across the three acts of the narrative. If this film falls down, it is not the actors’ fault.

There are some unbelievable moments in this film that you cannot help but wonder if they would have been handled differently by a black writer or director. The racist cops are almost handled as ‘a few bad apples’, as opposed to being a product of institutional racism. I cannot go into details because of spoilers, but after the events at the hotel, some of the cops (especially at a high level) are portrayed as sympathetic to the black victims and appalled at the actions of the three police officers at the centre of the action. This just does not ring true to me. It is disappointing that a film that was highly anticipated by me and many others, mainly because of the director, has fallen short at telling would could have been a vital and relevant story to today’s America. A missed opportunity.

 Fiona’s rating: 6 out of 10
Advertisements

Watch This Space: November 9 – 15

Welcome to your weekly go-to film guide – WatchThisSpace – where we recommend what to watch in the cinema and on the television, and remind you of those brilliant films hiding in your DVD collection.

IN THE CINEMA

Here in the UK, we finally get to see what could be one of the best films of the year. Whilst critics are loving ‘Steve Jobs’, box-office figures are surprisingly low and personally, we cannot fathom why. With Danny Boyle at the helm, Aaron Sorkin behind the script and Michael Fassbender in the lead role, this biopic of the late Apple founder should be a great watch.

ON THE TV

Monday 21:00 GMT: Want to watch four friends getting extremely wasted the night before a wedding and then enjoy the hijinks that ensue the day after without the headache? ITV have got your back. I feel like everything that needs to be said about ‘The Hangover’ has probably already been said, so all we can say is WATCH IT! Here’s our review in case you needed any more persuasion.

Wednesday 21:00 GMT: JumpCut UK favourite (and arguably the best actress around right now), Jessica Chastain, stars in the critically acclaimed ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ on Film4. From the director of ‘The Hurt Locker’, Kathryn Bigelow, comes another intense look at the war on terror.

Thursday 21:00 GMT: Although it isn’t very memorable, ‘Iron Man 2’ is always an enjoyable watch. It may not be the greatest Marvel movie, or even the best in the ‘Iron-Man’ series, but it’s worth a watch for Mickey Rourke’s Russian accent alone. It’s Film4 to the rescue once again, making sure you have a super Thursday night.

Saturday 11:00 GMT: Hayao Miyazaki is the go-to-guy when it comes to anime films, and is world renowned for his work with the Studio Ghibli animation company. Among his finest works is the magical, family-friendly ‘My Neighbour Totoro’, which you can catch on Film4. This film has become a cult favourite since its release in 1988, and sits at #127 in the IMDb all time top 250, which should tell you just how brilliant this Saturday morning flick will be. 

Sunday 21:30 GMT: BBC3 may be changing, but hopefully its desire to promote modern British realism will never fade. This Sunday, take a look into the dangerous world of teenage life in London with ‘Kidulthood’, starring the likes of Noel Clarke, Jaime Winstone and Nicholas Hoult.

DIG IT OUT

This is our favourite part of the WatchThisSpace section. We delve into our own DVD collection and pick out some amazing films, that may not instantly spring to mind when you’re stuck for inspiration to make your movie night a success. Maybe you’ve never seen a film that we pick – or even heard of them for that matter – but you’re gonna have to trust us on this one, and Dig It Out.

Her: This is a movie that you really need to get behind. If you’re weirded out by the idea of a human man dating his O.S. (Operating System), then this might not be the film for you. If you can get past the unique plot, ‘Her’ is actually a really good film and an experience like no other. It may be weird, but normal is overrated and I think everybody should try to watch it at least once. DB

Boyhood: When I first heard about this film I gave it a lot of hell; I trolled it, essentially. But when I eventually watched it, I instantly fell in love with it. There isn’t much that actually happens, per se, in ‘Boyhood’, but it’s more about the journey and watching this boy transform into a man. It’s a really cool concept and one that only director, Richard Linklater could pull off. Interesting factoid, Linklater spent 12 years making this six-time Academy Award nominated film. Here’s our review if you want to know more. DB

Titanic: Do you like boats? What about Leonardo DiCaprio? What about Leonardo DiCaprio on a boat? Well then, you’ll probably like ‘Titanic’. Jokes aside, ‘Titanic’ is a truly great movie. Don’t believe me? This James Cameron romantic-drama won a whopping 11 Academy Awards, and still remains the second highest grossing film of all time, 17 years after its release. Impressive, right? DB

Donnie Darko: I honestly don’t know where to start with this film. ‘Donnie Darko’ is my all-time favourite film (I even have a tattoo of the devilish rabbit on my arm). Director Richard Kelly has barely done anything since this 2001 cult hit, but if I was him I would be more than happy with my work. A young Jake Gyllenhaal stars as the titular character, a messed up teen with schizophrenia and an imaginary friend in the form of a giant bunny rabbit who can travel through time. Sounds ridiculous, but this is one of the most engaging, thought-provoking and enigmatic films you will ever see, and it even has a fantastic soundtrack to boot; a must watch for fans of the psychological-thriller genre. JLB

This week’s WatchThisSpace was compiled by Jakob Lewis Barnes and Dalton Brown