In Detroit, director Kathryn Bigelow spotlights the civil unrest that shook Detroit in the summer of 1967, and particularly the infamous events that took place at the Algiers Motel, when police abused a group of mostly black men and killed three. One would have hoped that 50 years on, we would be looking back those events and noting how far we have come. Sadly, that is not the case. Continue reading…
The award-winning director of The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty tackles an event that took place 50 years ago yet seems timely now, in the light of Michael Brown and Ferguson, and other recent incidents of police violence and public outrage. It is certainly a worthy subject but the film itself has some flaws.
Bigelow breaks her film into three parts, the first creating a picture of the whole, then depicting the shocking events at the Algiers Motel, and then the trial that followed the murders.
The film opens with an animated prologue, using paintings by Jacob Lawrence to summarize the decades of segregation and hardship that came before the violence in Detroit and other cities in the mid to late ’60s. It was a time of high tensions, with growing anger among African Americans in poor urban areas over decades of racial injustice and socioeconomic repression. What happened in Detroit was more an uprising than a riot.
Bigelow paints a brilliant, electrifying portrait of the violence in Detroit in 1967, using a combination of archival footage and beautifully-shot dramatic recreations. The sweeping nature visuals give the feel of a historic epic but then, well into the film, Bigelow narrows her focus to the events at the Algiers Motel annex, brings together several characters seen earlier in the film. This is the part of the film that is most powerful, drenched with tension and horror.
There is no happy ending to this story, although some do survive. The last part of the film, the investigation and trial, dissipates some of the film’s power. But Bigelow has taken an event of half a century ago and draws too striking parallels to today.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Detroit is AWFJ’s Movie of the Week for August 18-25. 2017.