“Detroit” is about one of the more unpleasant things to have happened in a city where so many unpleasant things have happened that you can elicit a feeling of despair just by naming your movie after it. (“Wanna go see ‘Detroit’?” “No, that sounds depressing.”) Directed with well-placed outrage by Kathryn Bigelow from a screenplay by her “Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty” scribe Mark Boal, the overlong film bristles with anger but is undermined by a meandering, repetitive story that doesn’t come together well enough to make the arduous experience worthwhile.
It’s set a half-century ago, in 1967, when the black neighborhoods of Detroit (and other American cities) felt oppressed by the heavy-handed tactics of the mostly white police force, and long-simmering racial tension came to a boil. (Hard to imagine anything like that happening today, right?) The result was a five-day riot that left more than 40 people dead. Onscreen titles summarize how the city came to be such a tinderbox, but the movie isn’t about the history of Detroit, or even the 1967 riot. It’s about a specific ugly incident that happened during the riot, involving racist cops and black civilians at the Algiers Motel. Since the film presumes unfamiliarity with it (a safe bet), and since the incident doesn’t occur until the second half of the movie, I won’t spoil it.
Before we get there, the film introduces us to numerous unrelated people and lets us follow them around without a sense of where it’s all headed. The Detroit cops include blatantly racist Krauss (Will Poulter, with sinister eyebrows) and his complicit cohorts Demens (Jack Reynor) and Flynn (Ben O’Toole). Early on, Krauss is reprimanded for over-aggressive policing (to put it mildly). “We’re not supposed to shoot the looters,” a colleague tells him. “Then how the hell are we supposed to stop them?” asks Krauss, putting his finger on the problem without realizing it.
[Continue reading at Crooked Marquee.]
C+ (2 hrs., 23 min.; )