- Emma Simmonds
- 21 August 2017
Blistering, unapologetically violent drama from Kathryn Bigelow which recreates the Algiers Motel murders
Kathryn Bigelow's tenth feature bristles with righteous rage as it takes a depressingly pertinent, unapologetically graphic look at the Algiers Motel murders, an incident of astonishing, prolonged and unchecked police brutality which took place during the Detroit Rebellion of 1967. John Boyega, Will Poulter, Jason Mitchell and Anthony Mackie take their places in an impressive ensemble.
Positioning events in a pressure cooker context, it finds the employment prospects and housing situation of Detroit's black community in dire straights. An incident of police overreach at the outset culminates in riots which would rage for five days. In the midst of the chaos, on the night of July 25, armed law enforcers descend on the Algiers Motel. Initially believing a sniper to be holed up there, the police (led by Poulter's vile Krauss) subject innocent partygoers to a vicious, night-long interrogation. Boyega plays a security guard who attempts to mediate between the officers and hotel guests and ends up implicating himself, and Algee Smith is a promising singer whose whole future is turned around.
Accused in some quarters of being racial torture porn, the very fact that Detroit makes people so uncomfortable means it's doing its job; this is bald, confrontational filmmaking, which wants us to not simply witness but to feel the force of this state-sanctioned hatred. Bigelow and her Hurt Locker cinematographer Barry Ackroyd capture events through an unrelenting, unforgiving lens; their camera alive to the terror of the group's ordeal and the disgust and twitchiness of the officers, while the heat of the night is palpable. They turn their experience of recreating overseas conflict to an America at war with its own ideals: opportunity for all versus impenetrable bigotry. It's stomach-churning stuff, especially as the injustice stretches from crime scene to courtroom. But it's also essential.
There is the occasional, well-intentioned, misstep; however, by focussing on just one of many incidents in a sea of anger and injustice, Detroit feels agonisingly intimate. Screenwriter Mark Boal (who worked with Bigelow on The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty) lends a horrible clarity to the confusion, as he spotlights the prejudice that's stitched into the very fabric of the USA's being, and shows how someone of colour might come to disengage from society. Who knows whether there will ever be a time where the lives of black Americans seem like they actually matter, but it is the duty of filmmakers as formidable as Bigelow to keep reminding us they should.
General release from Fri 25 Aug.