First Hit: Extremely powerful film about racial injustice in the city of Detroit in 1967.
Kathryn Bigelow has a history of taking on difficult powerful subjects and bringing them to life. She is a master director. Her filmography continues to get stronger and stronger. From her Blue Steel and Point Break days to The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty and now, Detroit.
I feel fortunate that, once again, in the matter of a few short weeks I’ve been able to see films where the focus is the story and not particular characters. And what makes this film even better is that although it takes place in 1967 it reflects the targeting of blacks today by law enforcement.
To do this Bigelow seamlessly incorporates actual 1967 film footage and stills into her vision of this story. We follow several black characters who end up being innocently targeted by law enforcement for being at a particular place, at a particular time, and because of the color of their skin.
The script was developed from court transcripts and proceedings, interviews of some survivors and an honest interpretation by the writer. The focus is the murder of three black men and the beatings of seven other black men and two white women by the Detroit Police Department and tacitly condoned by US National Guard. This incident took place at the Algiers Motel, in Detroit during the 12th Street Riots. They victims had gone to the hotel to hide out and stay off the streets because there was a curfew and people couldn’t get home.
One of the guests at the motel shoots a toy pistol, which is mistaken by the police and National Guard as sniper fire. In rushing the motel’s building the police drag these motel guests down to the bottom floor and begin interrogating them to discover where the gun was and who shot the gun. Despite killing the person who shot the never found toy gun, the police used extreme tactics to scare the other guests. They systematically pulled people into rooms threatening to shoot them if they didn't have answers to their questions. They also mercilessly beat each person.
In doing so, they killed another two. For hours they continued to beat each of the suspects to get them to talk. Finally, the police decided they need to leave. To cover their tracks, they threaten each of the remaining suspects, that if they were ever to speak of this event again, they will die.
Eventually, this event and the officers are brought to trial and the all-white jury exonerates the three guilty police officers. Sound familiar?
John Boyega (as Dismukes) is amazing as the black private security officer that attempts to be the peacemaker and mediator between the cops and guests. Boyega is great at hinting, what appears to be, regret that he didn’t do more to help his fellow brothers. Will Poulter (as Officer Krauss) did a wonderful job being everyone’s nightmare. It was not an enviable role but as the racist officer he made the hate real. Algee Smith and Jacob Latimore (as friends and bandmates Larry and Fred respectively) were fantastic as their dreams were taken from them that night. Hannah Murray and Kaitlyn Dever (as Julie and Karen respectively were the beaten white women) were wonderful. They really made their roles standout with honesty. Anthony Mackie as Greene the Vietnam vet who got caught up in the motel was perfect. Mark Boal wrote a fantastic Oscar worthy script. Bigelow, as I previously said, is clearly one of the strongest directors of our time. Her clarity of vision and storytelling is amazing.
Overall: I recall reading and seeing television news stories about these events when they happened, but only until I saw this film, did I understand the horror.