Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Review: Detroit

Cert: 15 / 143 mins / Dir. Kathryn Bigelow / Trailer

Coming in five years after her last feature directorial, Kathryn Bigelow's Detroit is a snapshot of the Algiers Motel incident during the Detroit riot of 1967, in which three black teenagers were murdered during a police raid, responding to reports of gunfire at the scene.

Rather than try to encapsulate the broader scope of the unrest at that time, Bigelow begins by focusing on the smaller stories. People - authorities and civilians alike - trying their best to go about their lives and jobs while the city tears itself apart every night. Even in such a permanently fragile situation, Bigelow and writer Mark Boal find moments of peace and even wry humour, all the time gradually building tension until the characters are in or around the motel. After this point, the film we get is more scathing than most in living memory, but always with a calm righteousness at its side. Never mawkish, and amazingly delicate given the level of brutality on display*1.

The ensemble cast are all on fantastic form, with John Boyega's performance as a night-time security guard who gets caught up in the fracas only upstaged by the magnificent Will Poulter, as the police officer who's forgotten how the law works. Poulter is destined for huge things and I don't think we've seen his best, yet. It's a brave and committed actor who throws himself into playing a character as reprehensible as this one. But obviously he's only as good as his co-stars; everyone is worked hard under Kathryn's auspices, and the audience reaps the rewards.

On a more technical level, this is one of the very few films where hand-held cameras (and frequent crash-zooming) not only work, but actually help with the atmosphere. Good job this time, Barry Ackroyd, but don't let me catch you doing it again.

So after just under a couple of hours of outstanding film-making, the story moves to the resulting trial of the police officers present that night. And I can see how this sequence - not just a quick montage - is absolutely vital for narrative closure, but it effectively derails the pacing completely. At first I'd thought we were seeing the trial to avoid having the 'what happened next' caption-cards before the closing credits. But it's about twenty minutes of courtroom drama, then we get the captions anyway. The problem is that as heated and emotional as the case becomes, it's thoroughly anti-climactic after what we've just witnessed. It's no biggie, but it feels tacked on given that we get another small coda at the very end, one which is far more in keeping with the main thrust of the film.

Never an easy watch, although it's not meant to be, Detroit is finely crafted, compelling viewing. Twenty minutes or so shorter and it would have been perfect…

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
If you enjoyed Selma, you'll get a lot out of this.

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
It'll certainly ramp up the intensity if you do.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
I think so.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
In Bigelow's case, that's hard to tell as she's consistently great, but the cast can all wear this one proudly.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
…maybe, maybe not.

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Finn is in this.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 I'm aware that it's a very right-on thing to say, but I like how angry a lot of America is with its own history, and isn't afraid to verbalise that. We could perhaps do with a little more righteous fury over this side of the pond, sometimes. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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