Given the current state of race relations in the United States, it’s unsurprising that Detroit, Kathryn Bigelow’s dramatisation of a historical incident of extreme white police brutality against African Americans, has proven polarising. But while it was predictably dismissed as leftist propaganda by irate alt-righters, its most vocal critics were those who objected to this particular story being brought to the screen by a white filmmaker. A valid issue to raise, but it was only a few months ago that Sofia Coppola was lambasted for excising a black slave character from her adaptation of Don Siegel’s The Beguiled, with detractors calling bullshit on her assertion that she thought it would be insulting to treat slavery as a sideshow. Clearly, the intertwined issues of authorship and representation require a more nuanced discussion than those being had by the perpetually-outraged fringes of the online film community.
As for Detroit, its rendering of the 1967 Algiers Motel incident, and the race riots that triggered it, is every bit as stark and visceral as you’d expect from the director of The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. Bigelow continues to display a knack for slowburning, stomach-churning set pieces, expertly ratcheting up the tension during a sequence of interrogation and torture that seems to play out in real-time. What a shame, then, that in its final act it devolves into a clunky courtroom drama, which serves only to needlessly reiterate the gravity of the injustices we’ve just witnessed.
Detroit | Directed by Kathryn Bigelow (USA 2017) with John Boyega, Will Poulter. Starts November 23
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