Review: Detroit picks at the fresh wounds of divided race relations in America

John Boyega as Melvin Dismukes in Detroit. Photo: Entertainment One/Francois Duhamel

John Boyega as Melvin Dismukes in Detroit. Photo: Entertainment One/Francois Duhamel - Credit: Entertainment One/Francois Duhamel

Kathryn Bigelow's film is a big sweeping, multi-character recreation of events surrounding the murder of three black men by police officers during the chaos of the third day of rioting in Detroit in 1967.

Violence on the streets of Detroit in Kathryn Bigelow's thriller. Photo: Entertainment One/Francois

Violence on the streets of Detroit in Kathryn Bigelow's thriller. Photo: Entertainment One/Francois Duhamel - Credit: Archant

Detroit (15)

***

Detroit is one of those big powerful Hollywood Oscar pleading dramas in which a big stubborn stain from America's past is given a public airing as a mirror to contemporary woes.

Specifically the murder of three black men by three police officers during the chaos of the third day of rioting in Detroit in 1967.


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The subject matter is apparently so sensitive that legions of Brits have been drafted in to do the recreating; all the oppressors, and around half the oppressed are from our side of the pond.

Kathryn Bigelow's film is a big sweeping, multi-character recreation of events from the raid on the illegal drinking club that initiated the 12th Street riot, the tense stand off at the Algiers Motel on the third day that is the centre piece of the film, on through to the resulting court cases.

Jacob Latimore as Fred Temple and Will Poulter as Philip Krauss in Detroit. Photo: Entertainment One

Jacob Latimore as Fred Temple and Will Poulter as Philip Krauss in Detroit. Photo: Entertainment One/Francois Duhamel - Credit: Entertainment One/Francois Duhamel

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It's impressively mounted, with plenty of hand held camera work to capture the sense of confusion and panic, inter cut with news footage of the event.

It's a harrowing tale, but so relentlessly straightforward that what should be a gut wrenching, gruelling experience, plays out with the detached dismay of a Merchant Ivory film about the Brits in India.

The various Brits scattered about the place are generally, but not exclusively, on the side of bigoted law enforcements. The most prominent amongst them is John Boyega as a security guard who becomes involved with the law enforcement officers.

Boyega brings an impressive Denzel Washington-like authority to the role, which is a heap of gravitas to be wielded by someone so young. Provocative too, as his character is called out as an 'Uncle Tom' early in proceedings, and though he always tries to present himself as a figure of authority, he is ultimately ineffectual. Interestingly his character, Melvin Dismukes, is the only one among the law enforcement side who hasn't had his name changed.

The film doesn't quite know what to do with him; as a viewer unfamiliar with the real events you are always unsure about what role he is playing in events, particularly in the aftermath of the killings.

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