While I don’t usually put too much stock into the historical accuracy of films that are based on true events, I left the theater after seeing Detroit feeling uncomfortably concerned about how close to the truth the horrific incident I just saw could have actually been. If Director Kathryn Bigelow’s goal was to make her audience’s skin crawl, she succeeded.
Detroit takes place during the 1967 Riots, where one childish act creates a night of terror for a group of mostly black teenagers who end up being held at gunpoint by police officers that are trying to scare them into confessing to a crime that may or may not have been committed at all. Like another movie based in history that recently hit theaters (it rhymes with “Funkirk”), the best word I can use to describe Detroit is “intense.”
Leading the investigation is Officer Philip Krauss, played to perfection by Will Poulter. Poulter steals every scene he’s in, giving off an incredible feeling of malice even when seemingly calm. Ben O’Toole gives off a similar vibe as Officer Flynn, but a little more unhinged. Both of them had me practically squirming in my seat almost every time they were on-screen.
Trying to keep the peace is John Boyega as Melvin Dismukes, a security guard for a local grocery store. Boyega is one of my favorite actors to hit the scene in the past few years (not just because of my love for Star Wars, he was awesome in Attack The Block too!), and Detroit adds another great performance to his filmography. The way Boyega presented Dismuke’s calm demeanor with such palpable fear and anger right below the surface was nothing short of amazing. The last scene where Boyega and Poulter are together is brilliant, and it probably wouldn’t have been anywhere near as great if it wasn’t for their incredible talent.
Of the suspects, Jacob Latimore’s Fred was far and away the best. Latimore’s truly believable portrayal of a terrified kid in the wrong place at the wrong time made him the one I was worried for most. While I thought he wasn’t anything noteworthy in Sleight, I’m glad he was able to step up his game in Detroit.
Anthony Mackie’s Greene and Hannah Murray’s Julie Anne were also great for the time they had, but they weren’t given enough to do for me to really appreciate them.
I feel like that was one of my issues with Detroit: Too many characters with not enough to do. It might just be me, but it felt unfocused at times due to having so many characters all together. While the leads got their time to shine, most of the supporting cast seemed tacked on.
My only other complaint would be the length of Detroit. There are few scenes that seemed to go on far too long and/or felt redundant, especially heading towards the finale. It just kept going over the same theme again and again. While it was definitely important to get this point across, it started to feel like beating a dead horse. I think the ten or so minutes before the ending could’ve been removed, and it wouldn’t have hurt the movie at all.
Despite my minor complaints, Detroit is a great movie. It expertly sends a very rough message about one of the bleakest periods in American history, and will probably keep me thinking about it for quite a while longer.