Detroit, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, struggles at times with its pacing and it also feels like it stretches its focus too thin. It does make it difficult at first to find the rhythm of the film, but once it gets to its primary focus, Bigelow is able to deliver an intense, gripping experience. But, does the films problems in pacing rob it of its power? Does the film not fully accomplish what it wants to do? I want to explore those questions and more in my review of Detroit, so let’s get to it.
Based upon a true story, the film follows the events that took place at the Algiers Motel in Detroit Michigan, where three young African-American men were unlawfully murdered during a time in Detroit’s history where riots ruled the streets and a mandatory curfew was in place. But the people doing the shooting were the people who were supposed to protect them; the police force and the National Guard.
When initially watching Detroit, I felt that the film was struggling with its focus. With its at times crippling pace and need to set-up many plot points and characters, it is both difficult for the film to deliver its story in an engaging way and subsequently for the audience to feel enitced in by the events taking place.
There is a lack of coherent structure in the beginning. The film knows who and what it wants to establish (and in a way so do the audience) but the plodding nature in which it is done makes it hard to initially begin to invest. You see, I had an idea of where the film was going (though it was minor) and the way in which the film was going about it just felt like it was lost, slightly.
Only when looking back at the film as a whole, was I then able to understand what the film was trying to do, but during it, I found myself struggling to find common ground with it. The way in which the film tries to establish the events that led to the riots breaking out and then following the subsequent riots, while then also trying to establish who the primary people are that make up the main focus of the story and then trying to bring that all together into what is the actual point of Detroit, is something that is poorly done. For nearly the entire first act of the film, I had no level of care or investment for the film, I was just simply watching what I felt were a bunch of unconnected moments that didn’t seem to be leading anywhere.
But, the film finds its focus and it zeroes in on it, to an extent that the film completely shifts and becomes something that will have you gripping the seat and hoping that things don’t go in the awful direction that they seem to be going.
When all of the strands begin to come together and the events at the Algiers Motel begin to play out, Detroit transforms into a torturous, tension inducing time, where both the characters involved and the audience who is watching, are controlled by a constant level of fear and sadness.
Something that Kathryn Bigelow has always been great at is pulling an audience into a situation that is exploding with tension and discomfort and then just staying there. Her ability to get down close into a moment and just drag it out, is what makes so many of Bigelow’s films so memorable (I remember how securely fastened to the edge of my seat, I was, during the entirety of The Hurt Locker). Detroit is another film where she takes an awful, challenging situation and has it play out in an almost cruel level of tension and fear.
It is here, in the primary point of the whole film (the events inside the Algiers Motel) that this film comes to life and unveils a story, beat-by-beat and it is both utterly captivating to witness and truly crushing to sit through.
It is here that Kathryn Bigelow uses all of her filmmaking experience and the many attributes at her disposal (actors etc.) to have the film take a hold of you and control you. It is here that the cast of actors/characters that she assembled, truly get to shine, and boy do they shine.
And when I speak about actors in this film, my attention is immediately drawn to Will Poulter – who portrays officer Philip Krauss. Poulter delivers what is in my opinion the best performance of his career, so far. He plays an absolutely reprehensible individual and every moment he is on-screen, he commands the moment (which is understandable, seeing as he is the officer in charge, during the events at the Algiers Motel). But there is just this presence to him that makes him almost magnetic. He also keeps you, the audience, on your toes, as at one moment he is the embodiment of evil, and in the next moment he seems like the calmest, most understanding police officer there. I never knew how to properly read the character, which made him all the more interesting to watch. Will Poulter absolutely steals the show, but that doesn’t mean he is the only actor who deserves praise.
Algee Smith – who portrays Larry Reed – goes on a transformative journey in the film. Beginning as a hopeful person who simply wants to accomplish his dream of performing on-stage, but closes out the film as a cynical, suspicious person who wants to live a more sedate, humble life. And the character is backed up by a performance from Algee Smith that perfectly communicates that to the audience; much of it being communicated through his facial actions, rather than what he directly thinks.
The film is full of standout performances and I could spend a paragraph on nearly all of them, but for the sake of your time, I’ll simply say that Kathryn Bigelow assembled a cast of actors who really understood the people they were portraying and they all came together to deliver on what was needed of them – an outstanding group of performances.
However, after the events at the Algiers Motel, the film does then return to its initial pacing and structure, and once again the disjointed delivery of the film re-emerges. It took some of the emotional punch out of the film, for me. After the intensity of everything; the emotional marathon that had just been overcome. The film then stalls out and loses the weight of its primary focus, for the sake of further exploration and information. I did appreciate knowing what happened after, but I feel the handling of it, took some of the wind out of the films sails.
But when I look at Detroit overall, there is still something powerful about it. I think much of that is because of just how enveloping and controlling the events at the Algiers Motel are. It’s one of those scenes that stays with you. But what also adds to the impact of the film is the real-world political battles that are going on right now. Much like during the events in Detroit in 1967, there is anger, separation and a feeling of in-justice. Watching Detroit and then looking at the news, it’s hard to see that the world hasn’t moved on that much. It probably wasn’t intentional (or who knows, maybe it was) but Detroit is a film with much to say and it is worth hearing.
So, I am going to recommend, Detroit. It is certainly troubled in some areas, but it is still a film with a story worth knowing and there are performances that deserve to be seen. I certainly think this film will be worth your time, if you go to see it.
I would love to know what you thought of Detroit and my review of it. So please leave any feedback or opinions in the comments section down below. I would also really appreciate it if you would give both my blog and my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings – a follow. I’ll finish up with a thank you and well wishes for the rest of your day.