Plot: In the 1960s, the civil rights movement was exploding and in more ways than one, as protests often erupted into violence, looting, and full scale riots. In Detroit, the locals clashed with a mostly white police force and despite pleas from local civil rights leaders, entire neighborhoods were torched, often the same blocks where the rioters lived and worked. In the middle of all of this violence, a horrific event took place at the Algiers Motel, where a group of black friends were congregated, as well as a pair of young white women. As a group of National Guard soldiers passes by in the street, one of the friends fires a starter pistol, hoping to make his friends laugh and cause a little in the process, but this sparks a night of violence and hatred.
Entertainment Value: While Detroit’s narrative is based on real life events, the movie even tells us that the stories from those involved are varied and as such, a clear vision of the truth is unlikely to ever be known. So the movie weaves a plot from some of the first hand accounts involved, then adds in the usual drama and fills in the blanks when no account was available. But regardless of the details involved, the big picture of what happened at the Algiers Motel is all too real and Detroit presents it as a violent, senseless turn of events. The movie unfolds in a series of almost vignettes, as we see the events from various perspectives, such as antagonistic civilians, racist cops, as well as more conflicted, unclear roles. Some of the cops/soldiers dislike what is happening, but are too afraid to intervene, others step up and do what they can to subvert some of the violence, then we also see how the aftermath shook out. As a movie, Detroit comes off as overly drawn out and inconsistent, such as the strange animation that opens the movie, which certainly would have been more impactful and effective if archival news footage and coverage was used instead. I appreciated that the movie isn’t afraid to get messy and complicated, but as a whole, the movie just didn’t connect.
A brief, but memorable scene has one of the girls exposed when a police officer rips off her dress, a powerful and unforgettable moment. The scene is played with such a contrast of total vulnerability and absolute power, it is a haunting moment that really stands out. The movie has a lot of violence, presented in brutal, realistic fashion, so there’s blood, but not horror movie levels of crimson. The violence is hard hitting and has a home invasion texture, with a constant sense of dread and always on the brink of a violent outburst. The movie might not be a cohesive whole, but the tension and dread are palpable throughout the motel siege. The dialogue is fine, but struggles somewhat due to some odd casting choices. Will Poulter just flounders here and given he is a central force, his presence really undermines the weight of the material. He comes off like a deer in the headlights, not the unhinged, hate driven monster the movie seems to want him to be. In terms of craziness, the home invasion style violence and tension is worth a point, but not much else breaks from the usual genre tropes.
Overall Insanity: 1/10