Often we go to the cinema for mere escapism, to be transported to a galaxy far, far away and immerse ourselves in the lives of others, shaking off our own issues in the process. But sometimes a vital injection of realism is required, as cinema works as a platform to study issues we have an obligation not to shy away from. Kathryn Bigelow does just that in Detroit, a film that will leave you feeling empty, cold and angry, tinged with a sadness that derives from the staggering pertinence of the themes explored – and while that doesn’t exactly sound appealing, this is essential viewing.
Set in the aforementioned Michigan city, tensions between the police and the black community are at boiling point, with brutal race riots playing out on the barren streets. There’s a curfew, buildings are being burnt to the ground, looting is at a premium, and the law enforcement are vilifying and abusing those they have a duty to protect; the (black) American public.
On one fateful evening at the Algiers Motel, the National Guard who are patrolling the streets are shot at from who they perceive to be a sniper, not realising it’s actually from the toy gun belonging to Carl (Jason Mitchell). So they surround the building, where idealist musician Larry (Algee Smith) is staying the night with his friend Fred (Jacob Latimore). Also present is the former soldier Greene (Anthony Mackie), as well as seven other black men, and two white women.
Upon realising that Julie (Hannah Murray) and Karen (Kaitlyn Dever) are in the company of African Americans, this triggers the police into a frenzy, as Krauss (Will Poulter), Demends (Jack Reynor) and Flynn (Ben O’Toole) begin to bully, harass and kill these innocent civilians. And watching the tragic events unfold in front of his very eyes is the helpless local security guard Dismukes (John Boyega) – unable to fathom quite what he’s witnessing.
Given the ensemble nature of this film, the characters are used sparingly and yet such is the quality of the performances, they each provide an emotional impact. The British cast are also doing this American tale justice – as Boyega is so remarkably nuanced and subtle in the sort-of-lead role, adding such a stillness to proceedings, while on the other end of the spectrum is the chilling display from Poulter, who is unnervingly sinister. You just want to throttle him – which in a sense, is a job well done for the actor.
Given the setting of the film, the music is incredible too – and yet even the alluring sounds of our favourite Motown hits are tinged with a profundity and bitterness, as it provides a sad contrast to what we’re seeing played out in front of us. The white folk may be tapping their feet to the sound of the soulful beat – but the black community are shuffling theirs while batons are digging in to their spines.
Detroit is incredible cinema, no matter how difficult it can be to sit through at times. This one case is used as a catalyst to explore an entire, dark period in American history, where so many lost their lives. This film lingers on the deaths of those who were killed that night, to remind us all they are not just a mere statistic – these are human beings that left behind families who never found justice, nor peace with what occurred. And it’s a struggle that is still ongoing today.
Detroit is released in cinemas on August 25th.