Director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal — Oscar winners for “The Hurt Locker” — collaborated to give us a vision of “enhanced interrogation” in “Zero Dark Thirty,” and now they’ve reached back to the 1960’s to explore that subject again—in the form of police brutality — in “Detroit.”
Based on a true incident from the hot summer of 1967, Detroit begins with an animated overview of slavery, a pan of an urban ghetto ablaze during the riots there, before it lands its lens on a particular
incident for one of the most gripping movies I have ever seen.
In a neon lit hotel called the Algiers, a young man, Larry Reed (Algee Smith) who aspires to get a record contract with Motown for his R&B group, The Dramatics, finds himself in a room with other black young
men and two white girls, punctuated by the background sound of “nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.” What happens as “Detroit” unfolds is so stunning that by the end of the film Reed is dedicating himself
to church music, vowing never to entertain white people. That’s how bad things turn.
“Detroit” is fueled by one incident, the shooting of a fake gun out a window by Carl, played by Jason Mitchell from “Straight Outta Compton” in an outstanding turn. And that’s when “Detroit” goes nuts at the Algiers as all hell breaks loose. SWAT teams arrive, the National Guard, and the world descends on the Algiers.
A volatile, racist cop named Krauss (a chilling Will Poulter) grabs five “Negro” boys and the white girls, puts them against a wall, and then the games begin, as he interrogates them to find the gun. We
experience the terror, not far away from more recent plucked-from-the-headlines racism. We see how black men are vulnerable to ignorance and base prejudice.
The acting from this group of young actors both black and white is superb. The most seasoned actor of the group, Anthony Mackie, as a Viet Nam veteran, gives gravitas to being a survivor of brutality. And
John Krasinski loses his usual sweet persona (known so well from “The Office”) as a cunning defense lawyer at the ensuing trial who makes a mockery of justice, a complete shit show of what can happen when alternative truths prevail.
Needless to say, the history of racism in America, the backdrop to this story, in real life is far from finished. Kathryn Bigelow’s focus on that room, on that wall, in that flamed city brings the violence up close and personal. The progression from “The Hurt Locker” to “Zero Dark Thirty” to “Detroit,” Bigelow’s best, is a refinement of the art of terror.
“Detroit”– which has 37 positive reviews and no negative ones on Rotten Tomatoes– opens tonight and tomorrow in New York and Los Angeles, and across the country next Friday.