At the beginning of the film, we follow the beginning of a five-day demonstration in Detroit, and the immediate cause is a police raid on an illegal nightclub and people being thrown out on the street. The quiet opposition soon turned into throwing stones at the police, and the situation became more and more dangerous by the minute. In the next five days, Detroit became a war zone, the army sent tanks and heavy artillery to establish peace, and on that occasion, 43 people were killed, mostly civilians. The first half of the narrative broadly covers the events and at the same time introduces us to the characters who will be the center of the story in the second part of the film. As we approach the second part, the story narrows and focuses on the famous event at the Alger motel. There was a colorful team of characters who didn’t care too much about the riots and had fun, but the problem arose when someone fired a bullet at the police…
Catherine Bigalow and Mark Bowle bring another tense and uncompromising film that points a finger at the eye of American democracy, recalls events from recent history and warns how little it takes to get things out of control. This is not a journalistic project or a film that is full of fiction, although it has a historical background (in order to better convey the author’s message or be more interesting to watch). Detroit dramatizes events in accordance with the traditional film narrative, but is based exclusively on the statements and memories of people who participated in historical events. Because of that, anger, frustration and a feeling of helplessness are felt throughout the entire film.
The director experiences the tension with a combination of archival footage, television reports and handheld camera shooting, which achieves a convincing semi-documentary impression. We observe politicians asking the question why all this is happening, but after three days of following the uprising, the authors offer a concrete answer to those questions. The accentuation of one event, which concentrates on everything African-Americans have constantly faced, practically shows systemic corruption and racism – psychological torture, physical assaults and taking lives by police officers who are so blinded by hatred that they are unaware that they are doing anything wrong or convinced that authority allows them to do whatever they want without consequences.
As the narrative narrows to one location, and the tension becomes stronger, then the skills of the director and quality acting performance come to the fore. Bigelow uses close-up shots on his actors to evoke the emotions of the victims, the cold-bloodedness of the police and the general feeling of claustrophobia. However, one gets the impression that the authors dealt more with facts than with the human factor, which is why we remain deprived of better characterization of the characters, and thus of emotional rapprochement with them. The whole casting did a great job, especially John Boyega, Anthony Mackie and Algee Smith on the one hand and funny eyebrow actor Will Poulter as a representative of the force of law.
Detroit is a disturbing dramatization of historical events that effectively shows the consequences of racist violence, but it does not have enough dramatic charge and fails to bring us emotionally closer to the characters and events in the film.