Film, Review

Film Review: Detroit

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Photograph: Anapurna/Kobal/Rex/Shutterstock


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By David Keyworth


In the mid-1990s trial of OJ Simpson, one of the most unsettling episodes was when tapes came to light of a Los Angeles police department detective called Mark Fuhrman. He boasted of planting evidence and beating suspects because he thought he could get away with it (‘Did you ever try to find a bruise on a nigger?’ he asks on the tape).

Kathryn Bigelow, (Oscar-winning director of The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty), takes us further back – to the summer of 1967. The film dramatises events that eventually resulted in a trial – albeit involving people less famous than a disgraced American Football star.

The story begins with a police raid on an ‘after-hours drinking party’ in a mostly black neighbourhood of Detroit – the ‘motor city’.

The Molotov cocktail of rioting and looting which explodes is a reminder that some of the oppressed can turn on their own community and not just the oppressors.

Bigelow uses a handheld camera technique to drive us into the chaos and adrenalin of those powder-keg nights.

Much of the film has the feel of a documentary and recreations are intercut with news footage from 1967.

None of the actors let the side down but I was particularly impressed by Will Poulter as the boyish-looking but brutally racist police officer – Krauss. His restless glances are those of a bully who knows his career could end any moment – if only his superiors would call him to account.

John Boyega, as security guard Melvin Dismukes, also conveys much without speaking. Behind his eyes you can see the slow-burning anguish of someone who wants to uphold justice but is reduced to the role of a bystander or, at best, someone who can save a cocky youth from  the short fuses and long batons of prejudiced police officers.

He is also caught up in a running debate throughout the film about whether violence should be met with violence or with peaceful protest, democratic power and self-preservation.

Julie (Hannah Murray) and Karen (Kaitlyn Dever) – dressed like early members of 90s band the B-52’s – show how sexual politics intersected with racial politics

In any film about the home of Motown, the music should at least provide some relief from the tension. Nowhere to Run, by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas is a highlight and music does provide hope that the racial barriers can be eroded until they crumble.

That said, the main soundtrack is that of gunshots, breaking glass and sirens.

At the end, we are told that the truth behind the fateful incidents at the Algiers Motel on 25 July 1967 – the film’s centrepiece – are not fully known and have been dramatised, based on the testimony of those who were there.  No one in 1967 could film with their cameras and upload to You Tube.

Sadly, in 2017, it doesn’t look like the events Detroit depicts are ready to boxed away and forgotten in a dark room marked ‘history’.


David Keyworth is an MA Creative Writing student, specialising in poetry.

About the author / 

Humanity Hallows
Humanity Hallows

Humanity Hallows is Manchester Metropolitan University’s official student magazine.

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