Film review: “Detroit” (2017)

This new film by the director of Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker is generating a bit of buzz, including some from me. Katherine Bigelow is a world-class director and rave reviews and Oscars have greeted her previous films. This film requires a little more perspective. No spoilers here. Look up the story line on “rotten tomatoes.com” or IMDB.

The film brutally depicts some events embedded in a 1967 race-related riot in the city of Detroit. The use of a historical backdrop as a base for drama involving named individuals for whom a story is told as technically a “docu-drama”. Facts and factoids are depicted according to the recollections of some individuals involved that are still alive, which is a dangerous thing.

People involved in any “real-life” drama remember things differently depending on their perspectives and biases. The film is unclear which of these players are spinning the story line and where the biases lay. The “real” facts according to some completely objective observer are largely unknown but the aftermath was clear.

Also unclear how the story might be biased according to Katherine Bigelow and writer Mark Boal, both of whom are white and Bigelow known for biasing toward the utility of torturing to obtain information (in Zero Dark Thirty). Finally, unclear also as to what the necessity was for a whole lot of seemingly endless gratuitous brutality. A story that could equally be told with more subtlety.

As I have mentioned before, there’s a whole lot of difference between a documentary (read- Ken Burns) and a docu-drama that can and frequently does take a “creative” liberties to tell a story sellable to the ticking purchasing audience. Did Bigelow and Boal specifically intend to over-emphasize graphic, gratuitous violence to wag their fingers at society because these things happen or to be historically accurate? If so, how that that improve the aura of the film? Very unclear to me and I’m quite suspicious of it.

Failing all the above, the actors are outstanding, the camera work is riveting and the story line is interesting to say the least. I think it merits a very hesitant and skeptical recommendation. It’s too long and the brutality becomes overwrought quickly. We’ll never know the stark reality what happened that day, but we’ll see one viewpoint of it, and that should be kept in mind.

The actors, writer and director on Charlie Rose Friday night:

https://charlierose.com/videos/30851

With some hesitation, I give it four of five baby-faced cops. See with realistic expectations if you have an interest.

 

 

 

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