John Boyega’s security guard Dismukes walks the between collusion and mediation in Detroit.
John Boyega’s security guard Dismukes walks the between collusion and mediation in Detroit.

MOVIE REVIEW: The race riot film you can’t ignore

BAGHDAD at the height of the Iraqi War. Osama bin Laden's Pakistani bunker at the moment he was assassinated. And now Detroit smack bang in the middle of the infamous 1967 "rebellion".

Kathryn Bigelow and regular collaborator Mark Boal like to put their audience in the thick of the action.

But like all good military strategists, they never lose sight of their overarching narrative.

In this latest production, the Oscar-winning director and the journalist-turned-screenwriter tackle the violent 12th Street Riot in which more than 40 people, the majority of them African-Americans, were killed.

Three of those deaths occurred in a downtown motel.

Sparked by a police raid on an illegal bar (which were known as "blind pigs"), the Detroit riot was one of 159 such disturbances that swept across the US during "The Long Hot Summer of 1967" as a response to police brutality, rising black unemployment and segregated housing and schools.

 

The 1967 race riots are the backdrop for Kathryn Bigelow’s timely, provocative Detroit.
The 1967 race riots are the backdrop for Kathryn Bigelow’s timely, provocative Detroit.

Although the film's release has been timed for the 50th anniversary of the historic event, Detroit is no museum piece.

The filmmakers tell the story from the point of view of a diverse bunch of young, mainly African-Americans holed up at the Algiers Motel.

When one of the long-term residents rashly fires a starter pistol, the full might of the Michigan police force reigns down upon them, supported by the National Guard and Army paratroopers.

Led by Philip Krauss (Will Poulter), whose casual racism is far more chilling than the red-faced, foaming-at-the-mouth variety often portrayed on screen, a small group of police offers systematically brutalise and terrorise their "suspects" to gain a confession.

John Boyega in a scene from Detroit. Picture: Supplied
John Boyega in a scene from Detroit. Picture: Supplied

These include Larry Reed (Algee Smith), lead singer in the Dramatics, an a capella band on verge of a record deal, and his best mate Fred Temple (Jacob Latimore), two sensible young men who get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Also lined up against the wall of the motel annex, where Krauss stages mock executions in a bid to gain a confession, are two young white women (Hannah Murray and Kaitlyn Dever), a Vietnam veteran (Anthony Mackie) and a couple of likely lads.

John Boyega delivers a compelling and complex performance as Melvin Dismukes, a private security guard who walks a fine line between collusion and mediation.

Disturbing, provocative and timely - the parallels with the cases of police brutality and homicide that fuelled the Black Lives Matter campaign - this immersive dramatisation of events won't let us look away.

Detroit opens in cinemas tomorrow.

 

Detroit

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Starrs: John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith

Rating: MA 15+

Verdict: 4 stars



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