Blu-ray Review: Detroit

By , Contributor
One of 2017's most thought-provoking dramas was also among its most overlooked. Director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal, having collaborated previously (to much greater fanfare) on The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, tackle the 1967 Detroit riots in the simply-titled Detroit. As per usual with based-in-truth docudramas, various real-life accounts have been condensed and dramatized to better fit the format. The results are searing, bolstered by incredible performances by John Boyega and Will Poulter.

Maybe with all the recent controversial police shootings that have peppered headlines around the U.S., Detroit hit too close to the bone for many viewers. Bigelow seems to be suggesting "look how far we haven't come" in her pull-no-punches account of racist cops who converge on a Detroit hotel one scorching hot summer night in July of '67. The city has come apart at the seams following a raid on an unlicensed nightclub. Detroit looks like a war zone, with cops, the National Guard, and various other armed personnel patrolling the streets.

When shots ring out from the Algiers Motel, which houses a group of mostly black guests seeking shelter from the raging street war, a posse of white cops (led by Poulter's seething Officer Krauss) will stop at nothing to uncover the source. Even if there isn't one. Much of the middle act plays out like nothing so much as an urban horror film.

A parallel story involving an up-and-coming singing group also taking refuge in the Algiers provides an interesting counterpoint to the cops vs civilians nightmare. The real-life group The Dramatics later rose to fame, but the focus here is their original lead singer Larry Reed (Algee Smith, contributing another indelible performance in a film chock full of ace acting) and his moving arc.

By the time Detroit reaches its act-three courtroom drama phase, Bigelow and Boal's reach has perhaps exceeded their grasp. By the time we see a number of cops on trial, most of the film's points have been cogently made. Perhaps a tighter edit could've made this hard-hitting film even punchier. Still, there's a lot to absorb here. Don't make the same mistake so many moviegoers did when they slept on this one last summer.   

Fox's Blu-ray skimps on special features, offering a series of short featurettes that barely tops ten minutes. But the film is powerful enough to stand on its own and will likely inspire many viewers to read up on the actual events. Detroit isn't easy viewing, but it raises a lot of interesting and disturbing points about the state of race relations in the U.S., past and present.
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Chaz Lipp is a Las Vegas-based musician and freelance writer. His new jazz album 'Good Merlin' is now available.

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