Racial tension always has the potential to reach boiling point and Hollywood hasn't shied away from depicting such a thing happening over the years in films such as Do the Right Thing and Selma, neither being afraid to show just how ugly things can get when they go beyond the boiling point, often making for quite tough viewing. Kathryn Bigelow's Detroit is certainly a film that shares a lot of similarities with those two films.

The Detroit riots led to days of violent public disorder back in July 1967, leaving parts of the city destroyed. During the riots, three African American men were murdered at the Algiers Motel. 
Bigelow's film opens with an animated prologue that explains the ethnic situation of Detroit in 1967 and wastes no time by getting straight into the matter of how the riots broke out. It's from here that Detroit took me by surprise a little, Bigelow choosing to spend the opening act of the film stringing together a number of sequences depicting crowd violence and police brutality, filmed almost in a documentary style. 

It feels as if there is no real narrative at this point however, I do like how it gives some context into how bad things got in the city throughout the riots. We are introduced to a number of characters but these introductions aren't drawn out at all, purposefully by Bigelow as she wants to focus more on the violence on the streets.

Then, suddenly, the characters we've had brief introductions to are thrust together in difficult circumstances and this is where both Detroit and Bigelow are at their best. The central act of Detroit takes place within the Algiers Motel and it makes for one of the most intense and brutal sequences of film so far this year, the aforementioned tough viewing well and truly coming into effect. It's a bit of shame that what comes before and after doesn't feel of the same standard though otherwise we'd be talking about film of the year material right here.

Coming to the performances, Detroit sees two exciting young British actors work together in John Boyega and Will Poulter however, the writing doesn't really allow both men to get a chance to shine. On one hand, Poulter is absolutely brilliant as Philip Krauss, a Detroit policeman who uses and abuses his position of authority to intimidate and humiliate those he comes across in the Algiers Motel, in a performance that will leave you seething with rage. Then there's Boyega as Melvin Dismukes, a security guard who tries to defuse the situation, who feels rather wasted which is annoying because Boyega is such a talented actor. He just doesn't really get anything to sink his teeth into, Poulter instead revelling in the chance to play such a vile character.

Bigelow's Detroit is an important film, elevated by a tight central act, that feels a little underwritten in other places compared to her other work. That being said, it's still a very good film that you should see, even if you just go to witness Will Poulter's superb performance.

Verdict: ★★★★


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