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Film Review: Detroit

Dwight Brown, NNPA Newswire Film Critic | 8/11/2017, 6 a.m.
“Detroit” tells a story of racial injustice and police brutality, based on fact, which is easy enough to believe and ...
John Boyega stars in the film “Detroit.” Annapurna Pictures

— Director Kathryn Bigelow is an expert with action scenes and quick edits. That was her strong suit with “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty.” She choreographs crowd scenes and deployments quite well. She builds tension, dread and suspense. With this film, her glaring flaw is the interrogation scenes, which seem brutally sadistic, way too long and almost ghoulish, versus authentic.

Newly shot scenes are edited in with archival footage from the 1960s, thanks to editors William Goldenberg (Heat) and Harry Yoon. The visuals, by cinematographer Barry Ackroyd (The Hurt Locker), are not in question. Other technical aspects of the film are on solid ground.

The ensemble acting is universally tepid; that might be, because so much attention was paid to the technical aspects and not the creating or recreating of characters that are three-dimensional. When the dust settles, the only performance that resonates is that of Will Poulter as the despicable killer Krauss. He is a nightmare. If that is the persona that overrides everything, the writer and director have not served this event, cast or the viewer well.

What moviegoers reaffirmed from Lee Daniel’s historical African American drama “The Butler” is that the black community has survived and thrived against great odds. From Stanley Nelson’s documentary “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution” audiences found people who stood up against the machinations of local police and the vicious FBI. From Ava Du Vernay’s “Selma,” which chronicled Martin Luther King’s crusade for equal voting rights and the historic march from Selma to Montgomery, viewers discovered that King’s message and life achievements trumped the most distressing parts of his short life. In Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave,” he picked a project that showed a free man who endured after being kidnapped into slavery.

After sitting through Detroit’s two hours and twenty-three minutes of incessant tragedy, it is hard to come up with any salvation. It’s a well-intentioned, fact-based story based on police records, news reports and the recollections of some of the participants. What the writers could not verify they embellished. (For example, the Krauss character is a composite and not based on a specific person, though Reed and Dismukes are.) If the filmmakers could create new characters and storylines, because the records were skimpy, they could have created one about a lone soul who became a community activist based on his/her experience from this tragedy. They could have given their audience one ray of light— one great, black hope. But there is none.

The overwhelming feeling you will likely have after sitting through this urban hell is despair, anger and hopelessness. The makers of “12 Years a Slave” and the other aforementioned films had far more vision than the creators of “Detroit.” And, an ordeal without purpose is just an ordeal.

Dwight Brown is a film critic and travel writer. As a film critic, he regularly attends international film festivals including Cannes, Sundance, Toronto and the American Black Film Festival. Read more movie reviews by Dwight Brown at: DwightBrownInk.com.