Review / ‘Detroit’ (MA) *** and a half

THE setting for Kathryn Bigelow’s massive (143 minutes) film is Detroit in July, 1967, when rioting followed a police campaign to close down the unlicensed Blind Pig club at the behest of the nearby Baptist church, which felt that punters, almost exclusively black, should direct their money toward church activities.

Riot scenes combining contemporary TV images with others staged for the film provide graphic background to the film’s main purpose, to explore the incident at the Algiers Motel involving hotel guests taking refuge from the rioting and police officers sent to deal with reports of shots being fired there.

The interaction between three white cops with badges and insignia removed, together with a private security guard and National Guard personnel, questioning members of a black vocal group and two young white sex workers, forms the film’s middle section. It is a refined kind of police brutality, led by Officer Krauss (Will Poulter) already on a short leash from his superiors following his earlier back-shooting of a black man fleeing from the rioting.

Based on statements from survivors, it presents Krauss as a sociopath determined to locate the gun and refusing to accept any denial of knowledge about the matter.

The final part of the film is the trial and acquittal of the officers charged with murdering three black men in the motel.

Kathryn Bigelow has directed some tough films about violence-related events – Oscar-winning “The Hurt Locker” and Oscar-nominated “Zero Dark Thirty”. “Detroit” reflects her reported comment that “in America, there seems a radical desire not to face the reality of race”.

“Detroit” obviously has most relevance in the US but its thematic impact travels well. Bigelow’s resolute treatment of the theme of cops getting away with threatening witnesses of dire consequences if they speak out has universal relevance and delivers great dramatic energy.

At Palace Electric, Capitol 6 and Dendy.

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