- Colin Fraser
THREE AND A HALF STARS An incendiary view of 1967 race riots that crippled a city, and shocked a nation.
PERIOD DRAMA #DETROIT
In 1967, police raiding a nondescript bar in Detroit sparked a week of violent race riots that culminated in military intervention and shook the nation to its core. Katherine Bigelow revisits that week with this visceral account, focussing on the actions of one particularly brutal officer. Through this white prism she picks at the scab of festering racism and anyone familiar with her work like ZERO DARK THIRTY will know what to expect: gut-crunching honesty.
Like a drone zeroing in on its target, she starts wide and pulls the focus tighter and tighter as one claustrophobic scene drops the madness of that wild week into a pressure cooker: fearing a sniper, police storm a building and pin down four black men and two white women alleged to be ‘harbouring’ the gunman. What unfolds is beyond any moral, ethical or legal position – acts of cowardly, vengeful racism that are stomach churning at best. Bigelow doesn’t make thing easy.
Her restless camera takes us into the heart of the action – almost too close given the unrelenting violence: first from the rioters then the police and finally the judiciary. 50 years on and DETROIT is an extraordinarily timely reminder of how little has changed in the past half century. The reality of the drama is inescapable.
While these are the hallmarks of a Bigelow film, they are also something of an emerging weakness, if such a word can be used about this movie. Over familiarity with her stylistic flourishes denies DETROIT much of its potency. I hasten to add that it’s a minor grumble for there’s no doubting the raw humanity and anger that pulses through Bigelow’s film. From from the opening frame this is the work of a master storyteller whose work should not, and can not, be ignored.