Panic On The Streets
♦ Tripwire’s editor-in-chief JOEL MEADOWS took a look at Kathryn Bigelow’s latest drama Detroit, about the 1967 riots in the city…
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Stars: John Boyega, Anthony Mackie, Algee Smith
Bigelow as a director is no stranger to big ambitious tales, set against a huge dramatic canvas. Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker were dramas set among the backdrop of war and she managed to tackle the subjects within with style and panache. Detroit deals with the 1967 Detroit riots, a moment that was triggered through a number of seemingly trivial or minor events. An illegal club was raided which led to a curfew in the city and three African American singers were led to motel The Algiers where a large proportion of the action takes place here on screen.
Detroit happened because of the divisions between black and white and so just like Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker, Bigelow’s intentions are to tackle a massive subject like racism and a divided American society. There is much to recommend about Detroit: Star Wars actor John Boyega, now a big name thanks to that movie series, shows that he can carry off a straight dramatic role as security guard Dismukes, and Algee Smith (who plays Larry, one of the singers from the band who are trapped in the Algiers) has a vulnerability to his performance. You do feel genuine sympathy for the band who just happen to find themselves in the wrong place at the very wrong time and Bigelow with the aid of cinematographer Barry Ackroyd manages to recreate late sixties Detroit adeptly. Its verite approach lends it a feel of quality cinema too.
However and this is a criticism that you could probably level at any director taking on such an ambitious project, sometimes you do feel like Detroit collapses under the weight of trying to tell a story that perhaps is just too large to fit into a two and a half cinematic canvas. But she does manage to bring it down to a more intimate level with viewers seeing very personal moments from players in the film so kudos to her for doing that.
We have had a five year wait for Bigelow’s latest film as director and, considering the logistics needed to stage something like Detroit, it isn’t surprising that we have had a long wait.
Detroit is a harrowing and well-crafted modern drama that tells the story or stories of the events that unfolded in Detroit in 1967 with empathy, cinematic confidence assisted by a very strong cast that also includes Anthony Mackie, who has been seen playing The Falcon in Captain America. It is an important story in modern American history and Kathryn Bigelow should be applauded for tackling it. It is interesting that summer 2017 has seen two films released that would normally end up in the pre Oscars slot (November to January): this and Nolan’s Dunkirk. Maybe filmmakers are beginning to realise that filmgoers would like a little more choice at the cinema at this time of year.
Detroit is out now in UK cinemas