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Movie Review: Detroit

History repeats itself with Detroit. Image used from

This past July marked the fiftieth anniversary of the 1967 Detroit Riots, one of the worst the country had ever seen, and in that time nothing has changed in this country. Other powder kegs had been set off around the country, sparking more civil unrest and the police are still a violent brute squad who get away with every crime they commit against the once minority of this country, the only real difference is that latter is now becoming the majority. The use of film is one meant for escapism, especially in dark and trying times such as these but every now and again film can be used to educate the masses on certain historical events either as a reminder or for those who are ignorant on those events. Detroit is that kind of film but is it a learning experience worth hearing or is it full of hot air?


The story for Detroit is well crafted but at the same time very difficult to sit through. The story comes off as something of a genre bender, broken into three separate pieces each feeling like a completely different, but still connected, movie. The first part deals with how the riots began and even focuses solely on them beginning with the raid on the unlicensed after hours bar that sparked everything. From there the film chronicles the earliest parts of the riots, the destruction from the enraged civilians and the entrance of the National Guard. With the destruction throughout the city, tanks rolling through the streets and soldiers opening fire on every small movement they see the film begins as something of a war movie and though at time we are not really connected to any characters or historical figures it still is a very startling yet gripping way to begin the film. But tanks are merely child’s play compared to the second portion of the film. At this point we’re introduced to The Dramatics, a group we easily connect with from the start not only because of their music and stellar career but also because at the point we meet them their career is about to take off before their forcibly shut down due to the riots. Two members, Larry Reed and Fred Temple, are forced to flee to the infamous Algiers Motel and for a time the film builds on these two characters, having us get to know them better as well as the other residents. For a time it is engaging to get to know these characters and the respective plights but after the known starting gun is fired and the police raid the Algiers is when Detroit becomes a truly difficult film to watch. Seeing the police fire their weapons unprovoked, beating and dragging each innocent civilian down into the lobby and forcing them to stand with their hands against the wall is already a hard thing to behold but the language the cops use, the sheer savagery of their actions and the depraved mind games they played with their victims is something completely shocking. This film stops being a drama at this point and it bends into its other genre: a tense, white knuckle horror movie and I guarantee you dear reader that you will not see a more horrifying film this year. This portion of the film takes the longest but the energy and sheer horror causes it to move at nearly break neck speed all while still managing to get it’s point across as well as making every single painfully cruel act be seared into one’s memory. It is an immensely difficult thing to watch but one that is still very important. After the events of the Algiers you’d think the film would end, that you could get up shaking with rage and head on home. No, the film doesn’t take the easy way out. Instead we get a short court room drama that not only shows the sad truth that sometimes evil wins but also shows the horrific consequences the police left on their victims. It is a very well made story and though it is hard to stomach, even sickening, it is still important and a story that can create such emotions in it’s viewers is one that’s doing the job right.


The characters in Detroit are well written


Of the victims the two that have the most focus are Larry and Fred. Larry is one of the more sympathetic characters in the film, not that the other victims aren’t they most certainly are all very sympathetic. But Larry has a lot of focus before, during and after the incident in the Algiers. To see his dreams evaporate before his eyes once he’s introduced, to see him suffer at the hands of the police. Even after all is said and done his suffering continues and it’s enough to break one’s heart. Fred, while not having as much focus, is still there through it all and of all the victims you learn to know him and Larry better and thus connect with them more.


Dismukes is an interesting character. He comes off more as a spectator to these events, watching them slowly unfold and not being able to do anything about it. He wants to do the right thing and every action shows that but he is a man trapped in a difficult situation where one wrong move to cause an already horrible situation to grow worse.


Krauss, the lead cop and the main antagonist for this film, is both a freighting and sickening character. His first order of business with every move and action is violence and hatred and through every single minute we have to endure him I found myself growing angrier and angrier. Each action he performs is more deplorable and repugnant then the last from beating his victims to playing sick mind games where he deceives the others into thinking he had murdered one of them and far too often I felt a sense of dread drop in my abdomen. In the end his actions and lack of consequences for them was enough for me to want a put a hole in a wall.


The remaining characters are very sympathetic, you feel greatly for them, but they don’t stand out as much as the former characters. You learn some things about a handful of characters but not a lot. Even so you will feel for them through all they’re put through and you’ll want nothing more then to see them get out in one piece.


Acting for Detroit is excellent, too good in one case


Algee Smith does a fine job as Larry. Smith is very convincing in his role as he manages to give a moving performance from start to finish. Some of his absolute best comes from when we are first introduced to him and during the very end of the film.

John Boyega does very well as Dismukes. Boyega is calm and collected in his role, one that doesn’t seem to require him to do much, and yet he is memorable and commanding in it especially at the end. That seems to be a running theme with the acting here.


Anthony Mackie does well as Greene, one of the victims. It isn’t one of his strongest performances and like most of the victims his performance requires him to either stand by a wall or get beaten by the villainous cops but every now and again he has his moments and stand out in them.


Will Poulter is an anomaly to me. I first saw him We’re The Millers a film where he played an obnoxious dork of a character. I scoffed when I heard he would play the antagonistic Gally in The Maze Runner but was completely shocked when I saw that he gave a physically imposing performance. In Detroit I was interested in seeing what he would do and he not only manages to be vile and despicable but he gives a truly terrifying performance. Poulter does too well in his performance as every shout, every action and every simply gesture was enough to chill me to the bone while bring my blood to a boil. If you think this is all an overstatement just remember: This kid was originally supposed to be Pennywise. Think about that.


The remaining cast does very well in the respective performances but like Mackie the most they do is act terrified and stand by a wall. It’s shockingly convincing ad every now and again someone stands out for a moment but for the most part it really is The Will Poulter Show and like the victims we’re all forced to sit and be a part of it.


Final Thoughts: Detroit is a very hard film to sit through but nevertheless it is the very film this country needs right now. It holds a mirror up to his and shows that concerning the police and politics and certain right winged people nothing has changed and it seeks to have it’s audience remember and learn from it. It’s tense, it’s horrifying, it is rage inducing and a very excellent film in every sense of the word. It hit me like a truck and made me think even days after I saw it. I highly recommend Detroit but I also recommend you do something pleasant afterwards. Hang out with friends, go for a nice walk while the weather is still warm, watch cat videos, go home and do something that makes you happy. Because Detroit will leave you entertained but thoroughly angry.


Verdict: 5/5

About the Author

Good day to you, my name is Jonathan Gonzalez. For years I've loved movies and have been reviewing them for years, ever since I first saw Roger Ebert on Ebert and Roeper during my freshman year of high school for the first time. I am a graduate of Mercy College with a Bachelor's in Journalism and I have Asperger's Syndrome, something I am truly proud of.

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