Review: ‘Detroit’ (2017)

Kathryn Bigelow has been on a tear lately and this movie is no different. After making two highly-acclaimed war films in The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, she focuses her unflinching eye on a different kind of battle: America’s war on minorities. Detroit follows an ensemble of characters through the 1967 riots in the titular city and the results are terrifying, depressing, harrowing, and sobering. Life in America was awful for minorities during the 1960s and sadly nothing much has changed since then.

As with the two aforementioned Bigelow efforts, Detroit is filled with great performances and many of the faces giving them are familiar ones. The stacked cast here includes, among others, John Boyega (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), Will Poulter (The Maze Runner), Anthony Mackie (Captain America: Civil War), Jacob Latimore (Sleight), Jack Reynor (Sing Street), and John Krasinski (“The Office“). You couldn’t ask for a better set of performers to tell such a disturbing tale.

The technical side of the filmmaking here is just as good as the performances. Bigelow has always been a confident director and Detroit is no different, deftly handling every sweet aside and tense moment. If I had one critique in this area, it would be that the film meanders a bit at times and doesn’t quite seem to know when to end. It may well have been better off as a limited event series, given the breadth of the story they are telling, but as is, it’s a well-made piece of filmmaking.

Unfortunately, also like The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, this movie left me feeling cold. It might run like a well-oiled machine from top to bottom and it certainly tells a compelling story, but it didn’t stay with me beyond a few fleeting thoughts about how we haven’t changed as a society. While it’s good that Detroit sparked the latter reaction in me, it’s not enough for me to love it as a piece of cinema.

I will always have time for new films from Kathryn Bigelow. That said, it’s becoming clearer and clearer to me that her cinematic interests as a craftsman and storyteller these days no longer align with my own. I still very much cherish every single offering among her early work, particularly Near Dark, Point Break, and Strange Days. For better or worse, she is a different filmmaker now than she was back then. That’s perfectly fine. Kathryn Bigelow doesn’t owe me a damn thing and she has every right to move on to new areas of cinema that excite her in different ways. I will continue to follow her no matter the path she takes, but I no longer do it as enthusiastically as I used to.

Detroit is a period crime drama about the events of the 1967 Detroit riots. It is directed by Kathryn Bigelow, from a screenplay by Mark Boal. The film is produced by Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal, Matthew Budman, Megan Ellison, and Colin Wilson. It stars John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Jacob Latimore, Jason Mitchell, Hannah Murray, Jack Reynor, Kaitlyn Dever, Anthony Mackie, Joseph David-Jones, Ephraim Sykes, Leon Thomas III, Laz Alonso, and John Krasinski.

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