Detroit review: Kathryn Bigelow directs this gritty, uncompromising story based around the true events of the summer of ’67 where three young African American men were murdered at the Algiers Motel in Detroit.

Detroit review by Paul Heath. 

Detroit review
Detroit review, The Hollywood News – Image: Annapurna

Kathryn Bigelow follows up solid awards-worthy and indeed winning hits The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty with another hard-hitting drama set against the backdrop of 1960s Detroit.

The film takes place in the middle of the 1967 Detroit rebellion, a five-day long public disorder which began in the early hours of Sunday July 23rd, 1967, but more specifically at the events that took place at the Algiers Motel two nights later.

On that fateful evening, Larry Reed (Algee Smith) lead singer of the professional, black R&B group The Dramatics, along with his friend Fred Temple (Jacob Latimore) are involved in an incident which saw his tour bus attacked by rioters. Separated from the rest of his band member, Larry takes Fred to the Algers motel, where they rent a room for the night. It is there where they meet two white girls, Julie (Hannah Murray) and Karen (Kaitlyn Dever), who introduce them to their friends Carl Cooper (Jason Michell) and Aubrey Pollard (Nathan Davis Jr).

Related: Zero Dark Thirty review

The five party away in one of their rooms when Carl and one of his friends stage a prank where a starter pistol is fired out of their window. Bemused by the lark, Julie and Karen move to another room, that of Greene (Anthony Mackie), a Vietnam war veteran who is staying on his home. Meanwhile, down the street, Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega), is working as a security guard at a local grocery store when he hears the commotion – the police mistaking the starter pistol for sniper fire, and returning shots back towards the Algiers.

Detroit review
Detroit review, The Hollywood News – Image: Annapurna

Dismukes integrates himself with the police as they charge to the hotel where they find the group of black men, along with the two white girls. This triggers a frenzy of emotions from the police unit, led by Phillip Krauss (Will Poulter), and also Demends (Jack Reynor) and Flynn (Ben O’Toole), who line them all up to attempt to understand what is going on. What follows is a series of events that involve the police harassing, bullying and eventually killing some the individuals, while a confused Dismukes helplessly looks on.

To say that Detroit is hard-hitting and utterly shocking is perhaps an understatement. To say that it is one of the most intelligently-made and superbly crafted films of the year is absolutely bang-on.

Containing an amazing cast, led by the never-better John Boyega and an unmissable, truly exceptional Will Poulter, Detroit manages to push the buttons that it intends to and never once takes its foot off the gas. It’s an epic, epic endurance piece awakening its audience and opening old woulds of an incident that needs to be revisited, discussed and brought to the forefront of our minds – particularly in today’s political and social climate.

Detroit review
Detroit review, The Hollywood News – Image: Annapurna

Boyega lingers in the background of much of the movie, the polar opposite to Poulter’s fictional Krauss, whose portrayal of the hideous racist and sadist cop is one of the true highlights, even if you despise him for every moment he’s on screen. Poulter won the BAFTA Rising Star recently, but make no mistake, this young actor has now absolutely risen, and along with the equally talented Boyega, is one of the most exciting young British actors working today.

On the technical side, the film uses a mix of archive footage from the events of 1967 with some incredible cinematography from Barry Ackroyd (Jason Bourne, Captain Phillips). This meshes seamlessly, and when coupled with Kathryn Bigelow’s superb direction creates an ultra-realistic feel and literally puts you in the middle of the horrifying situation.

A long watch – the film clocks in at a lengthy 143 minutes – but absolutely a worthwhile one. Not a film to outright enjoy of course, but one to digest, react to and open up adiscussion. It is definitely a highlight of Bigelow’s glowing career, a frightening, superbly crafted motion picture and one of the most unmissable, and most shocking films of the summer.

Detroit review by Paul Heath, August 2017.

Detroit opens in UK cinemas on Friday 25th August 2017.