I got to go to an advanced free screening to Detroit, and had I not, I don’t think I would have gone to see it that day. I already emotionally exhausted from work, and I knew that this would be heavy. I haven’t left a Bigelow flick in recent history feeling light and refreshed. More like existentially drained. And since I knew this was a true story, I knew it would be harder to shake once leaving. I know that means Bigelow accomplished what she set out to do, but somedays I am one song away from curling up on the floor of my bedroom and wondering what it all means. So this was going to take a toll on me.
I had seen the previews and knew the general story. Riots in Detroit during civil rights unrest, and the previews seemed to highlight the aftermath of the Algiers Motel incident, where 3 teenagers died due to police brutality. The trailer seemed to suggest this was going to be the law and order aspect of John Boyega’s character getting framed, and going through the trial. So I was shocked with the primary focus of the film, which is what actually occurred in the motel. The greater part of the movie was at least an hour of nonstop brutality as we watched the motel incident as recreated in real time.
To say this made me sick to my stomach is an understatement, it came across less as a historical drama and more as a dark thriller. I would like to say the main “villain” felt supernatural, but what makes everything worse is how relevant this still feels. But I need to step away from the sickening social commentary before I start spiraling again.
Performance wise, I have to give it to Will Poulter. I think had this movie come out in November, he would be getting serious Oscar buzz. I am actually not sure why they dropped this over the summer, it is not a popcorn movie and was up against some real heavy hitters in the lighter departments. But back to Poulter. I hated him with all the fiber in my being, I felt his vile nature to my core. It dominated the movie, dwarfed his sidekicks Jack Reynor and Ben O’Toole who still nailed it. It was the kind of performance that would make you feel uncomfortable to talk to him for weeks after the fact if you knew him as a person. Pair that with the fact that he was going to play Pennywise, and I am not sure Poulter is someone I could ever feel safe around. Which is only a credit to his craft.
As for the main victims trapped in the motel, Algee Smith and Jacob Latimore did a ton with the little backstory they were given with their characters. Much more nuanced performances, and half of their emotion comes through while their faces are pressed up against a wall. Your heart broke for them a million times over, I almost yelled out loud in the theater every time someone could have stepped in but didn’t. Early on, one of the cops beats an unarmed Anthony Mackie and I could have walked out, I was so upset.
The movie ends with one character who made it out of the incident with his life forever altered, unable to return to his old friends, unable to go anywhere with cops or do things that used to bring him joy. This feeling stuck with me long after I left the theater. Things happen in an instant that change people and communities and cities for years. While I doubt I will ever choose to watch this again, I thought it was a masterpiece of emotion and painful story telling. Oh, and there is a surprise John Krasinski cameo. So 8.5/10