In this scathing docudrama, Kathryn Bigelow, the Oscar-winning director of “The Hurt Locker’ and “Zero Dark Thirty,” depicts the civil unrest that rocked Detroit in the volatile summer of 1967. It begins on the night of July 23 with a violent police raid on “The Blind Pig,” an unlicensed bar and African-American social club located on the second floor of a printing company, inciting what came to be known as the 12th Street Riot.
A mob forms when the partygoers, celebrating the return of two Vietnam War veterans, are herded into paddy wagons. At first, bottles are thrown, then bricks, as the mood of the crowd quickly escalates into looting and arson, punctuated by shouts: “Burn it down!”
That leads to a visceral confrontation at the seedy Algiers Motel, where seven black men and two white women are brutally humiliated, graphically tortured and abused by police officers, resulting in the deaths of three innocent youths.
Working from an unflinching script by her longtime collaborator Mark Boal and in-your-face cinematographer Barry Ackroyd, Bigelow tells the agonizing, provocative story from various, often conflicting perspectives.
There’s Philip Krauss (Will Poulter), an overtly racist police officer, seemingly based on 24 year-old David Senak, who was exonerated and placed back on duty after he shot and killed an unarmed looter during the riots, and Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega) is a factory worker moonlighting as a security guard.
Fred Temple (Jacob Latimore) and Larry Reed (Algee Smith) are members of an R&B group called The Dramatics. Robert Greene (Antony Mackie) is an unemployed veteran. Julie Ann Hysell (Hannah Murray) and Karen Malloy (Kaitlyn Dever) are teenage hitchhikers from Columbus, Ohio.
Plus Aubrey Pollard (Nathan David Jr.) and Carl Cooper (Jason Mitchell), who fires a toy starter pistol out the window which alerts the Michigan State Police and National Guard, who think he’s a sniper.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Detroit” is a sordid, sadistic 6, filled with so much excessive violence that it induces revulsion, emerging as exploitative, racial torture pornography.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Detroit is AWFJ’s Movie of the Week for August 16=8-25, 2017