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Detroit (8/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 143 minutes


I’m not sure about the name of this film. It’s not really about Detroit. It’s about what happened at the Algiers Motel in Detroit on July 25, two days after the start of the 1967 riots. What’s the point of calling it “Detroit?”

What’s shown on the screen is not only frightening; it is debilitating to sit through. Director Kathryn Bigelow (from a good script by Mark Boal) has filmed it cinéma vérité style, using hand held cameras and it is totally immersing. Maybe I took it too seriously, but I saw it at a 10 a.m. screening and felt wiped out the rest of the day.

The person who really makes the film pop is Will Poulter, who plays lethiferous Philip Krauss (a fictitious name), the sociopathic Detroit policeman who engineers the torture of the innocent people who found themselves at the Algiers motel that night. He gives an Oscar®-quality performance that one will not soon forget.

Others in the outstanding cast who deserve special mention are Hannah Murray, who plays Julie, a beautiful young woman who is subjected to all sorts of vile accusations by Krauss but fights back, John Boyega, who plays Dismukes, a good guy security guard who finds himself between a rock and a hard place, and Algee Smith who plays Larry Reed, the lead singer of fledgling singing group The Dramatics, and who had booked a room at the Algiers motel for himself and his friend, Fred Temple (Jacob Latimore), to keep them off the violent streets where the riot was taking place.

True, the film is long, but it never lags, except right at the end. The cinematography (Barry Ackroyd) and editing (William Goldenberg and Harry Yoon) are so exceptional that they are as much characters as any of the actors.

There’s an epilogue that concludes the film admitting that a lot of what is seen is conjecture, drawn from interviews with many of the participants, including black residents of the community, police, and military personnel who were involved. I don’t know what really happened there, but this is certainly a compelling film.