Director Kathryn Bigelow was inspired to unearth this event by the Ferguson (MO) riots (Aug. 2014) where an unarmed black teenager was fatally shot by a white police officer.
And in a way, that’s the most depressing thing about Detroit. update everyone’s fashion sense, throw in a few smartphones and you could very well be setting this in 2017. The more things change…
Now, for the 12 people who actually watched The Hurt Locker, for which Bigelow won the award for Best Director; and, as of 2017, The Hurt Locker is still the sole film by a female director to win that Award. Your going to find a very similar shooting style.
Because using a style she first adopted with The Hurt Locker, director Kathryn Bigelow deployed three or four cameras at a time, keeping them in constant motion around the actors. Bigelow preferred to light the entire set to give the performers more flexibility to move around. She didn’t block a scene for the camera by plotting out a series of close-ups and wide shots, instead filming everything in a few takes to keep the emotions as raw as possible. “After two or three takes, I have it,” she said.
Or, if your having trouble with that, try imagining a Jason Bourne movie made by your history teacher.
Essentially, we are given a limited understanding of the situation and then dropped in the middle of things and left to get on with it. Characters don’t monologue about their past or have little phrases about them appear on screen the first time they turn up meaning that at times it’s a little disconcerting trying to work out who everyone is and how they’ve come to be here and empathizing with them can be difficult to start with although towards the end if your not screaming with silent rage at the screen then I don’t know what to say.
Because it’s easy to mock Detroit and make Robocop jokes but, the film shows us a world where a police officer can shoot a man and be back on the beat a few hours later. Where brutal violence is seemingly consequence free depending on the color of your skin. And again, it would be almost effortless to update this to 2017.
Essentially, this movie is based on the Algiers Motel incident during Detroit’s 1967 12th Street Riot, which prior to this film I’d never heard of. And that’s quite a limiting idea when you think about it. Taking a citywide riot which was an inevitable result of systemic racism and took place over several nights and choosing to focus on it’s most notorious aspect- that three teenage civilians, all of them black, were beaten and killed by police. Nine others—two white females and seven black males—were badly beaten and humiliated by members of a riot task force composed of the Detroit Police Department, the Michigan State Police, and the Michigan Army National Guard, and a private security guard.
Now that is still a lot to work with and Bigelow does a good job of getting all the characters in one place, and then forcing us to watch as the ensuing brutal events emerge almost inevitably as no-one seems willing or able to stop a train that left the station long ago.
Now, i’m not normally a fan of the Jason Bourne style of shooting a film but here it seems a perfect fit. It’s gritty and raw, making it seem like no character is safe or, if they do escape that the events of that night will stay with them forever.
Detroit can seem a little dry at times and spending ten minutes fleshing out the characters before the film gets going proper would have helped the emotional gut-punch that happens throughout the second act. It does nothing wrong, but it could have done more things right.
And why it was released at the height of blockbuster season is simply beyond me.
It needs ten more minutes to be spent developing the characters in the first act and ether another 15 minutes on it’s third act or to spin that off into a different film.
It’s a solid film but more workmanlike than the passion project this needed to be, with material that sadly seems like it won’t be out of date in another 50 years.
My Score- See It