Detroit Is A Disaster In A Historical And Filmic Sense
Review by Aaron Haughton
The year is 1967, and the location is Detroit during the 12th Street riots at the Algiers Motel. After hearing gunshots, which allegedly came from a starter pistol, a large delegation of Detroit police, State Troopers, and National Guard investigate the motel under the assumption that the shots were fired from there. The result led to the deaths of three black men (Carl Cooper, Fred Temple, and Aubrey Pollard) and the mistreatment of 9 other civilians (2 white females, and 7 black males). The events of the Algiers Motel incident are still unclear and have been heavily researched and debated to this day.
This is clearly a story that needs to be told, but it's not handled or executed in the right fashion. Director Katheryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal take major creative liberties to make up their own version of what may've happened during the incident, which comes off as a major piece of propaganda; a message that pretty much says all white people and cops are conniving racists, whose only agenda is to promote hatred and keep the black man down. Bigelow and Boal are right to shine a light on one of America's many lurid and shameful events, but they do so with a shaky camera and narrative confusion. The whole affair is gratuitous, exploitative, and handled in poor taste.
In addition to the shaky camera, which permeates throughout the entire film and adds no enhanced value to the narrative, Bigelow incorporates news footages of the rioting and crime scene photographs from the Algiers event. While watching the film, I actually began to question its existence in this dramatized format, concluding that it would be better served and more effective as a documentary. The film suffers from a major protagonist problem (I ask you to tell me who the main character(s) and why are in the comments below), and doesn't seem to know what story it wants to tell.
For instance, the film begins with a minute long animation that basically highlights the wrongdoings to black people in broad strokes, beginning with their enslavement and working its way to 1960s Detroit, before actually opening with the police raid of a unlicensed drinking club, which is the inciting incident for the 5 day rioting that follows. This is based in known fact; however, it's the major focus of the first half hour of the film, and it ultimately does nothing for the narrative, other than set the scene. We don't get plunged into the Algiers until about the 30 to 45 minute mark, which is exclusively where the narrative should take place.
Even then, it's tonally awkward, jumping from the grave seriousness and violent confusion of the riots to a light-hearted and comedic 20 minutes at the motel while characters are finally getting introduced, before veering quickly back to the seriousness and violence of the actual Algiers incident. The film is filled with so much lurid dialogue and acting, and silly one-liners delivered by Will Poulter, such as, "This is Detroit, we don't bluff," and "Another one bites the dust," which just makes me think of:
The film is a testament (however poorly done and heavy-handed) to how horrible segregation is for humanity and how fear leads men of all colors to make some pretty stupid decisions. It's a good conversation piece, but I believe it does more harm than good, instilling more fear and aversion into our black brothers and sisters, instead of encouraging an open discussion, like Jordan Peele's Get Out. In fact, after the screening concluded, I bore witness to several little pockets of self-segregated crowds of singular color who congregated to discuss the picture.
The sad truth of the film is that it still very much resonates with our current times, but it does little to offer solutions or promote any semblance of unity. It became so involved in its own portrayal of the events that it flounders to find a light-hearted note to end on, which comes in the form of a song and can be seen coming a mile away.
I have to knock the film for its creative liberties, its poor dialogue and many scenes of dumb moments, for choosing to film in Massachusetts instead of showcasing the city of Detroit, and especially for the shaky camera, which is really, really distracting and annoying, like a mosquito that continually buzzes in your ear and darts in your line of vision -- it really prevented me from become immersed in the story and detracted from the performances.
Another problem with the film is that it shows that there are actually good cops way too late in the game, and it drones on for 30 to 45 minutes longer than it really should. Don't get me wrong, there are some enjoyable moments in the film and some very solid performances, but the sighs and groans outweigh all of that. John Boyega gives the most standout performance as Security guard Melvin Dismukes, and may prove to be a younger generation's Denzel.
All in all, I would strongly encourage everyone to read up on the event and watch a documentary on the Detroit rioting, such as the Detroit Free Press' 12th and Claremont, instead of spending your hard earned money for this shameless piece of propaganda. Watching it via VOD or RedBox will allow you the ability to pause (although, you may just wanna keep it running so it gets over with quicker).
Rating: 2 riots outta 5.
What did you think of the film? Did it resonate with you, or did you find it to be propaganda? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and, as always, remember to viddy well!