Detroit Movie Review

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This might not be the biggest movie of the summer, but I was so excited to check out Detroit. I’m a huge Kathryn Bigelow fan, mostly for Point Break, so her name was all I needed to hear to be excited for this movie. This is also the first role we’ve seen John Boyega since The Force Awakens unless you want to count the glorified cameo he had in The Circle as one of the most pointless movie characters of the year. Detroit actually has a huge cast with an Oscar-winning director and producer, so I was a bit shocked to see it released this early as compared to in December. Either way, I wanted to see Bigelow’s third consecutive possible Oscar contender, so let’s talk about Detroit!

Detroit is directed by Kathryn Bigelow and stars John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Jacob Latimore, Jason Mitchell, Hannah Murray, Jack Reynor, Kaitlyn Dever, Ben O’Toole, and Anthony Mackie. The film centers around the Detroit riots of 1967. With violence at an all-time high in the city, one event defined the situation in which a group of young African-American men were held in a motel as suspects of a shooting.

Just to get down to it, this is easily the most frustrating movie I’ve seen all year. Typically when I use the word frustrating in a review, I’m referring to wasted potential. This time, however, it’s frustrating in the best way possible. It’s the way the story plays out and is told that makes it so powerful and upsetting. First of all, the cast is incredible in this film. Just take a second to peek at the list above of all the cast members. Honestly, there isn’t a single person in Detroit that feels like an actor. There are no stars of this movie. The star is the story and the tension as compared to the characters, and every single big name actor melted into this film. On top of those I mentioned above, there’s another actor in this film who sort of appeared out of nowhere. He doesn’t have a major role, and I had no clue that he was in the film, but for someone who usually comes across as one of the coolest, most down-to-earth actors in the business, I found myself upset with his character. I understand that his character was simply doing his job whether there was motive behind it or not, but Detroit was under my skin to the point where I despised him as well as a few other people. The character I probably disliked the most was Krauss, played by Will Poulter. I’ve really liked Will Poulter in everything I’ve seen him in, but this is the first time I’ve been absolutely disgusted with him in a very good way. The performance is brilliant, and it makes the movie work. To this point in the year, he has to be the best movie villain I’ve seen all year. They say that the best movie villains are villains that have motive and think that they’re doing the right thing. In this case, he may have convinced himself that he is doing the right thing, but there’s really no motive. Sometimes the scariest evil is evil without reason or purpose. The most terrifying villains who haunt real life nightmares can just be pure evil without having a larger intent. Will Poulter’s character is terrifyingly real, and it works for the story this film tells.

That brings me to the next thing that this film does so well. It captures this reality from a certain point of view that puts the viewer inside the narrative. I love Bigelow’s choice to go handheld for the entire film, as she has done before, because it immerses us into the chaos of the situation. I felt like a fly on the wall witnessing this movie as though it wasn’t even a movie. Bigelow has a signature way of capturing fictionalized depictions of events in a documentary style that feels like a primary source of information. Few filmmakers have the ability to allow their audiences to time-travel for a couple of hours, and Bigelow sends us back to 1967 with Detroit. I also think that this is a necessary film. Detroit, to me, had the same effect that 12 Years a Slave did. It’s the kind of film that audiences will never want to talk about. The first and only time I saw 12 Years a Slave, I was so emotionally beaten down that I didn’t say much for the next few hours, maybe the rest of the day. However, despite being a difficult subject to talk about, this movie needs to be and will be discussed. If you check this movie out with your friends or family, it will absolutely spark a serious discourse. To stick with the comparisons to 12 Years a Slave, Will Poulter does a very similar thing with his role to what Michael Fassbender did with his back in 2012. I love Michael Fassbender. I always have and probably always will, but I really hated him in 12 Years a Slave. To be fair, he hated himself, so I don’t feel too bad about saying this. Poulter does the same thing in Detroit. I love him as an actor, but he made me want to throw up.

It’s absolutely a political movie, but without getting too political, the film makes a statement that I think all people can agree on. The true scares in this film come from reality, and when the cops of the film treated the murder of these men the way people treat ordering fries at a restaurant, it severely bothered me. Do you know when you order a side of fries and ask someone if they’ll share with you, almost like the group sharing fries is getting into some fun trouble together? That’s how the officers acted when it came to shooting humans. While it did feature officers who followed a gross code of ethics, it also featured those who helped people in need, so I loved that the film didn’t overgeneralize in that way because the world is not a black-and-white place. Take, for example, Patriots Day from last year. It was one of my favorite films of the year, and it showed the true good that law enforcement can do when everyone bands together for a greater purpose. Detroit does portray officers who have clean intentions, and it can inspire a bit of hope in such a dark film, but it definitely shows the monstrous other side of the coin.

I definitely don’t think that this is a perfect movie, so I’ll talk about a couple of issues I had with it. It does drag on a bit. At just under two and a half hours, I did think that there are certain moments that could have been tighter. It seems like a small nitpick because I was truly locked in with sweaty palms gripping onto the arms of my theater chair for most of the time, but looking back on the film, I think there would have been a better way to introduce the situation in a shorter way that displayed the scope and size of the issue while also keeping us with the characters for the entire time.

Overall, Detroit is by far the most frustrating, maddening movie of the year, and it affected me emotionally in a way that doesn’t often happen at the movie theater. It doesn’t even feel like a movie. It feels like I, as an audience member, was placed in this situation through Kathryn Bigelow’s direction and this terrifyingly real story. Using handheld the entire time easily allows the audience to be sucked in, and these performances don’t even feel like performances. They all feel real because there is no spotlight. This is the story of something horrible that happened to a group of people, and this story and the way Bigelow builds tension is the star of the film. It’s extremely compelling from an emotional perspective, and it upset me in the best way possible that will definitely spark conversation. I’d definitely suggest checking it out, maybe even with family and friends because it’s a film worth acknowledging, and it’s a film worth talking about over a dinner or in a car ride home, and it will stick with you for a while. I’m going to give Detroit a 9/10.

Just as a caveat if you decide to check out this film, it’s not a fun 9/10. I gave Wonder Woman a similar score earlier this year, and I had a blast in Wonder Woman while I think it was an extremely well-made movie. Detroit is frustrating to the point where I kind of wanted to walk out, but I think it’s beautifully made and sends an effective message. Will you be checking out Detroit? Comment down in the comment section and let me know! As always, thank you, and keep listening to 88.7 The Pulse!

About Justin Lyons

Hey, it’s Justin Lyons! I am the Chief Film Critic for The Pulse. Have any questions for me? Please feel free to email me at movies@pulseradio.fm