★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki
Black day in July,
Motor City madness has gripped the countryside,
And through the smoke & cinders,
You can hear it far & wide,
The doors are quickly bolted,
And the children locked inside.
- Black Day in July by Gordon Lightfoot, 1968
My grandfather told me many times about how Detroit was once the 5th-largest city in the United States, with a peak population of almost 2 million in 1950. He said Detroit was once an extremely prosperous city, with a vast amount of automobile plants for all the major car companies: Ford, Chrysler, General Motors, Packard, Hudson, & others. Detroit was once called "the Arsenal of Democracy."
Years later, the city began its notorious downfall, with years of crime, plant closings, & corruption in the city government, most notably the corruption during Kwame Kilpatrick's tenure as mayor, & all of that culminated in Detroit's eventual declaration of bankruptcy in 2013. The city is just beginning to turn around, but it will take years to get back to prominence, if it ever does.
The downfall began on Sunday, July 23, 1967, the first day of the Detroit riots. The riots began when police raided an unlicensed bar full of African-American patrons celebrating the return of 2 soldiers returning from Vietnam, eventually arresting everyone there.
By the end of the riots on Friday, July 28, 1967, 17,000 members of the armed forces & law enforcement had been deployed, 7,231 people had been arrested, 1,189 people had been injured, & 43 people had been killed, including 3 African-American men killed in cold blood by Caucasian police officers at the Algiers Motel on Tuesday, July 25, 1967.
Detroit is an absolutely gripping & incredibly heart-stopping look at one of the darkest moments in modern American history. The film solely focuses on the Algiers Motel incident & on the people who were involved in the incident. Melvin Dismukes (played by John Boyega) is an African-American security guard protecing a grocery store. Along with this job, he also works at a factory in Detroit. Meanwhile, Larry Reed (played by Algee Smith), the lead singer of R&B group The Dramatics, & his best friend, Fred Temple (played by Jacob Latimore) decide to stay at the Algiers until the riots blow over. While there, they meet two Caucasian women, Julie Ann (played by Hannah Murray) & Karen (played by Kaitlyn Dever), who inroduce them to their friends, Carl Cooper (played by Jason Mitchell), & Aubrey Pollard (played by Nathan Davis Jr.). When Carl & Aubrey pull a prank involving a starter pistol, Julie Ann & Karen become upset & move to the room of Robert Greene (played by Anthony Mackie), a Vietnam War veteran who has recently returned to Detroit.
Soon after, Carl fires several blanks at National Guardsmen, who return fire at the hotel. Dismukes, along with three Caucasian Detroit police officers: Philip Krauss (played by Will Poulter); Demens (played by Jack Reynor); & Flynn (played by Ben O'Toole), arrive at the scene. While Dismukes is calm & tries to protect everyone who wasn't involved, the three police officers line everyone at the hotel up, & brutally interrogate them.
Krauss is especially brutal. He is unapologetically racist & sexist, & he likes to play a sick game where he fires bullets from a rifle near the witnesses's heads, & threatens to kill them if they don't tell them who fired the gun. After the incident, three men at the motel were murdered, & the sleazy Attorney Auerbach (played by John Krasinski) tries to defend the police officers in the criminal trial.
The lives of the survivors are forever changed, & what they thought they would do in life before then is totally different after the incident.
The cast is the best of the year. John Boyega, most known for portraying Finn in the Star Wars sequel trilogy, gives his best performance yet. While Star Wars: The Force Awakens made him a star, this film has showcased his excellent range as an actor.
Will Poulter's performance is surprisingly one of the best of the year. I say surprisingly since besides giving a brief dramatic performance in The Revenant, I am most familiar with his performance as the nerdy, anxiety-filled Kenny in the hilarious comedy We're the Millers. Here, Poulter really showcases his dramatic chops, & what he does with his performance is amazing. His character is one of the most evil characters in film history, & Poulter really makes us hate him so freaking much.
Algee Smith gives the best performance of the film. Before the incident, he's all about trying to make it big in the music industry, but afterwards, his decision to do that is forever changed. And Smith makes us feel nothing but sad for his character, because we knew what potential he had, & it is sad that he didn't go far because of how scarred he was over the incident. Smith definitely deserves an Oscar for his performance.
The rest of the cast, especially Latimore, Mitchell, Krasinski, Murray, Dever & Reynor, also give great performances.
Kathryn Bigelow, who is one of the best directors of her generation, & most well-known for directing The Hurt Locker & Zero Dark Thirty, has directed her best film yet. I commend her for bringing this story to light, as even I, who has grown up in the Detroit area & known a lot about the riots, never knew about this incident.
Mark Boal's screenplay is excellent. Boal, who has previosuly worked with Bigelow on The Hurt Locker & Zero Dark Thirty, has wrote his best script yet. The dialogue is amazing, & the real-life characters he has brought to the story are amazing as well, & feel so human. And the connections to race relations today are so scarily prevalent.
Barry Ackroyd's cinematography is chaotically excellent. Ackroyd, who tends to have a shaking camera, perfectly captures the chaos of the incident.
The editing by William Goldenberg & Harry Yoon is excellent. The film is perfectly paced & assembled, & it's some of the best editing of the entire year.
Jeremy Hindle's production design is amazing. The set of the film looks exactly like 1967 Detroit, & sadly, it looks like some parts of Detroit today.
And the sound design is incredible. For the entire second act of the film, the film is intensely loud, with gunshots riddling around & throughout the motel. The sounds heard during those moments are so jarring.
This is the best & most important film of the year so far. It certainly isn't an easy watch, but it is certainly an important one. This is a film that needs to be seen.
Detroit was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI, on Saturday, August 5, 2017. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 143 minutes, & it is rated R for strong violence & pervasive language.