For a director who started her career with genre films like Near Dark (1987) and Blue Steel (1990), Kathryn Bigelow has spent the better part of the past decade delivering films with a more hard-edged journalistic quality. The Oscar-winning military drama The Hurt Locker (2008) and the equally-feted Zero Dark Thirty (2012), which dealt with the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, saw Bigelow forge an indelible partnership with former reporter turned screenwriter Mark Boal. Their third collaboration Detroit takes a similar approach as it delves into a shocking real-life incident in Motor City that took place 50 ears ago.
Vividly, dizzyingly shot by veteran cinematographer Barry Ackroyd, the film is set around the Detroit riots that tore the city apart in 1967, when the predominantly white police force’s aggressive interventions set a chain of events in motion in the African-American community. The first act brings together a dozen or so disparate characters who will soon find themselves caught up in a horrifying incident of police brutality at the Algiers Motel, as Detroit law enforcers storm an annex of the building after shots are fired in the vicinity.
In reality, three unarmed African-American patrons were murdered in cold blood that night, and Bigelow doesn’t spare audiences from what happened. The central portion of the film, the Algiers sequence runs for around 45 minutes, with the director creating a pressure-cooker environment that is utterly relentless. Leading the police investigation, if that’s what it can be called, is Krauss (Will Poulter), an unremittingly violent cop who brutalises those in the Algiers, including Anthony Mackie’s Vietnam veteran, Algee Smith’s musician and Hannah Murray’s student.
It’s a tough, exhausting watch. At their bluntest, Bigelow and Boal take – no pun intended – a very black-and-white approach here. But it’s impossible not to be swept up in the film’s gale-force energy. British actor Poulter (The Revenant) is sensational as Krauss, a career-best performance that somehow ensures this brute of a character still feels well-rounded. Also featuring John Boyega as a security guard embroiled in events, it’s a punishing film to watch, but one that – with the current racial tensions bubbling away in the US – feels utterly relevant to the present day.
Detroit opens in cinemas on 25 August. For more information: www.eoneukslate.co.uk
1. Still from Detroit. Courtesy of E One Entertainment.