Randy’s Review ‘Detroit’

Thursday, August 10, 2017

A hard, but necessary watch

Kathryn Bigelow delivers again as she directs a gritty story set in the midst of the 1967 Detroit 12th Street racially-fueled riots, titled simply “Detroit.” This hard watch offers a little bit of background and perspective, setting the table for a harshly toned and darkly shot tale focusing on one specific incident which resulted in the death of three young black men, allegedly at the hands of aggressive, white Detroit patrol officers, at the Algiers Motel.

I say alleged because in the film’s credits, it’s noted that while the circumstances and story are based on real events, some of the holes in the story had to be filled in which always prompts me to place an alleged in place.

Following the raid of an after-hours, unlicensed club in a largely African-American Detroit neighborhood, racial tensions — which were already strained between the community and mostly-white police force — boil over as residents take to the streets to demonstrate against the police intrusion. Some residents take it to the next level, inciting riots, burning and looting neighborhood stores and buildings and attacking law enforcement. The lawlessness prompts Michigan’s governor to activate the state’s National Guard and Army paratroopers to assist the city’s law enforcement.

The violence and destruction spread, setting off a chain of events which lead to the deaths which made national news and resulted in court cases for those involved.

A group of young R&B musicians, The Dramatics, looking for their big Motown recording contract break are moments away from a career-making performance when their packed venue is shut down due to the events taking place outside. Devastated, the group joins the rest of the talent and audience, vacating the building as things continue to brew outside. When the city bus they board comes under attack by the rioters, they abandon the public transportation and head out on foot, looking for sanctuary — caught in the middle of the rioters and the police line. Lead singer Larry Reed (Algee Smith) and his friend, Fred (Jacob Latimore) get split off from the rest of the group and find refuge in a cheap room at the Algiers.

The Algiers seems oblivious to the action in the streets as those inside are partying and having a good time. Larry and Fred try to relax, finding a couple of young white women, Julie and Karen (Hannah Murray and Kaitlyn Dever), and the four join another group of young black men. After Larry, Fred and the girls return to their rooms, gunshots from the Algiers designed to scare a group of nearby National Guard soldiers prompts officers and soldiers to respond to the hotel and begin a search for the shooter. Also responding is a neighborhood store security guard, Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega), who was offering coffee to the guard unit when the shooting started.

The police team, led by Phillip Krauss (Will Poulter), already under investigation in another recent shooting death, snatch up a group of residents from the motel — among them Larry, Fred, Julie, Karen and recently returned veteran Greene (Anthony Mackie) — and begin interrogating them violently and with terror. National Guard soldiers look on, concerned by what they’re seeing, but unwilling to stop it. Dismukes, pretending to assist the police, does what he can to try and protect the suspects from the aggressive police actions.

By daylight, three men are dead.

The story doesn’t end there. Krauss and his two police colleagues, along with Dismukes, all stand trial for the deaths of the three men — setting off a whole new story of courtroom ethics, justice and the racial questions of the time.

For those involved in the night’s events, lives were changed forever.

As I wrote earlier in the review, this is a hard movie to watch. It’s brilliant story-telling, perhaps a bit longer than it needed to be, but told well in a snapshot of the racial anger at the time. My heart ached as I wondered how things got to that point. Still, it’s a movie everyone should see so we learn from the wrongs of our past. It will keep you on the edge of your seat as the tension remains constant until the final 20 minutes or so. It will make you think.

On a scale of 5 popcorn buckets, “Detroit” loads up 4 tubs although I wouldn’t really regard this as much of a popcorn movie. It’s a tough watch, but necessary to understand just how ugly racism and its results can be. MPAA rating: R. Running time: 2 hours, 23 minutes. This film was reviewed at Southpark 7 Theatres in Spencer.