Every time a new Kathryn Bigelow film is announced you know it’s going to a difficult viewing experience, yet every single time the film’s importance and craftsmanship warrant its heavy subject matters. There are view directors big-name directors like Bigelow out there that utilize their gravitas in the filmmaking industry to serve as spokesmen or in this case spokeswomen for a valiant cause they truly believe in. Although Detroit might be the lesser of three films she’s crafted over the last decade dealing with macro-events of human tragedy, Detroit is a hyper-important maddening portrayal of the ravaging effects humans can have on others humans because of the echelons they choose to invent in order to wield power over the fellow man they deem less.
Thrusting you into the heat of the night through the of Ackroyd’s heavy reliance on handheld camera-work, ignoring an awfully misplaced animation segment that introduces you to the Detroit scene leading up to the riot, Ackroyd’s cinematographic work combined with Bigelow’s in-the-moment realism immerses you entirely into the riots, boiling a rage in you that might leave you angered with the film despite that being its objective. By painting the senselessness of the Detroit scene at the time, Bigelow has already boggled your mind and showing the senseless violence she’s got you furious.
In that very state of fury, Bigelow then unveils her story, that of the Algiers Motel incident. Torturous to endure, yet necessary to reveal, we spend about an hour at this site exposed to the radically violent treatment the Detroit PD enforced on the African-American community. Something I loved about this film is the way it presents actors as characters, no one shines and everyone plays people. There is no reserved stardom whatsoever and everyone plays their part to perfection, although nothing heroic might be of their characters come the film’s finale, every actor is committed to living in the skin of their character for the film and it works brilliantly. Such as Will Poulter who’s bloody terrifying in this film or John Boyega who’s just going along with what’s going on because he doesn’t want himself or the people around him dead by time the night ends.
That being said, Bigelow’s choice to thrust you into the heart of the storm does backfire at times as she’s limited with her ability to build characters the audience can gravitate towards. You are obviously going to empathize with people undergoing such atrocities for such unnecessary reasons, but with limited characterization you naturally and unfortunately care less for the character than if he were being built up the whole film. Detroit certainly inspires anger in the sight of hate, yet isn’t able to transmit the sadness of the situation as a result of its lack of characters the audience can properly understand or identify with.
Detroit being Bigelow’s latest is an unequivocally timely film that should be watched with the escalating atrocities we keep witnessing in our nation. With that said, Detroit heavy-handed agenda is somewhat marred by the immediacy of its storytelling. Whether that’s limited characterization or a limited presentation of the why that lead to the start of the riots, these elements affect the ultimate quality of the film. Hard to watch and hard re-watch, Detroit should be watched nonetheless because of its culture significance and portrayal of senseless human acts we could simply do without.