Sometimes, less is more.
Kathryn Bigelow’s drama revolving around the 1967 Detroit riots and one infamous incident involving Police Officers and several locals had very grand ambitions. Attempting a three act structure to depict the early instances of tension, the dramatic event that is the main focus of the film and it’s aftermath, to do justice to all three could reasonably involve an even longer feature, or miniseries to boot.
The first two acts are rendered to Bigelow’s usual excellent standard, with the second, featuring the central horror, playing out with studied, supremely palpable tension. The third; rushed, clipped and a near-montage style summary of ensuing, staggered events could just as well have had its message and impact confined to the concluding commentary writ large in sparing sentences, this better conveying the abrupt sense of tragical misgiving than anything else.
Recreated in part from eye-witness accounts, the exact nature of events as depicted in the film as stated never fully established by legal proceedings, Bigelow’s handling of the various confrontational scenes is redoubtable, building and enveloping an unavoidable sense of helplessness as the harrowing events slowly unfold.
John Boyega as the security guard flung into a turbulent hell delivers one of his finer performances to date, though special praise must go to Will Poulter as Detroit’s towering, terrifying harbinger of dread. As uncompromising as he is eerily indiscernible, one sequence where his Police Officer abruptly changes tack toward one of the event’s witnesses is even more disconcerting for the moments he would have you believe he is anything but what is frighteningly established by the character’s early introduction.
Algee Smith, Jack Reynor and Game of Thrones’ Hannah Murray round out an exceptional cast that along with the story could have been done a greater service if the film had dedicated it’s full time and focus to the aspects of the story it could ably tell and do justice.
Detroit is in cinemas from November 9