31 Days, 31 Movies 12/3: Detroit
John Boyega is fantastic once again. In Attack the Block form, Boyega eats up every second of screen time he’s given. It is surprising how many fantastic actors are in Detroit actually; familiar faces like Jason Mitchell, Anthony Mackie, Malcolm Kelley, Hannah Murray, Gbenga Akinnagbe, even Tyler James Williams and Samira Wiley shows up for 30 seconds each. The big names really deliver in Detroit and lend some heart to an otherwise callus script. And that’s about all the good I have to say for Detroit.
Kathryn Bigelow has never been a director that I have any interest in. Her early year in B-movie action never appealed to me and her newest obsession with telling harrowing and timely historical stories I’ve never thought has turned out as well as others. Of the trio of Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty, and Detroit though Detroit is easily the biggest miss. I think it’s easiest to sum up what Detroit is by telling you that there is a 40-minute scene in the middle of the film that feels like it takes two hours where we watch three white cops terrorize and kill a group of young black men and white women in a motel. Detroit is a generally a mess narratively never sitting still long enough to tell any specific story except to watch the white cops brutalize the black men. I can understand why Bigelow would think that is the point of stories like the Algiers Motel Incident. It’s not.
I desperately wanted this to be good. I want to like Kathyrn Bigelow so badly–she is the only woman allowed to to make ambitious movies she wants, unless Patty Jenkis decides to ride the wave of Wonder Woman. I just couldn’t help wondering what this movie is made by Ava DuVernay. But even more so I’m a fan of so much of the cast, Boyega in particular, could have been used to such great effect. On the other hand though Jason Mitchell is fast becoming one of my favorite actors. The movie spends most of its energy on Will Poulter, Jack Reynor, and Ben O’Toole who are not talented enough actors to make up for the lackluster script and slapdash directing. Detroit is an incredibly important story especially today but this is not the first time race relations has been examined in film and Detroit is closer to Crash than it is to Fruitvale Station or Do The Right Thing.
Bigelow sets out to tell an important story here but her manic storytelling style gets in the way and Detroit never really tells any story fully especially evidenced by its tact on ending. The amazingly talented cast is squandered and the spotlight is shown on some of the weakest members. But when the cast is allowed to shine they make the most of it. A lofty goal and I appreciate the story Bigelow set out to tell but social commentary does not a movie make.