Written by James Reilly – Student Pages Entertainment Journalist/Film Critic
Detroit is the latest film from acclaimed director Kathryn Bigelow, this time taking a back seat from her recent war pictures (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty) and this time concentrates on one of the most important moments in modern history; the Detroit riots that helped shape the American Civil Rights movement. After a strong track record in recent years, can Detroit hold up to her impressive resume of films?
Yes and no.
The film strikes me as an American Dunkirk (dir. Christopher Nolan), a film that is built around one major set piece. However its Detroit’s aim to expand on this and create a larger story that is its undoing. The majority of the second act takes place in the Motel where three African-American’s were brutally shot and killed by the police force, a defining moment in the riots. The same way Dunkirk only showed the battle of Dunkirk in its WW2 epic, Detroit aims to do the same with its aim to capture the Detroit riots in one segment, that being the motel murders. Where Dunkirk felt tight and measured, to the point of backlash with many not liking its lack of character development, Detroit edges the opposite way with so much exposition that it really does not work in a lot of places. Some characters feel developed, and its obvious that we are to see the riots from these points of view, yet in the climax of the second act these characters are marginalised for new characters we have barely been introduced to. That being said when the film works it works extremely well.
The hour or so that takes place in the Motel is very, very well done. Its intense, edge of the seat action that is easily one of the best moments of film this year. It’s such a same that this scene couldn’t take place in a equally incredible movie, but this easily elevates it from a 3/5 film to a comfortable 4/5. Once we get going, about an hour or so in, the film hits it stride providing some of the most engaging cinema I’ve seen this year. A negative I had with the films cinematography throughout the earlier parts disappeared as in these scenes it works extraordinary well. Its almost like the film was built around this entire motel scene – and it shows. The rest of the movie doesn’t lend itself to the cinematography, tense soundtrack and wonderful slick writing. Once the film takes itself out of the four walls of the motel, it gets lost on the Detroit streets.
While the film is still very good, its made painful that with a more cohesive script, tighter editing and cinematography there could have been a truly incredible film here that could of easily been one of the best films of the year. The motel scene will be remembered for years to come, however the rest of the film cannot match up to the truly extraordinary motel moments this film has. If you don’t mind sitting through a lot of time heavy exposition to get to one incredible hour of cinema, I’d highly recommend watching this on the big screen.