Film

Sixties blitzkrieg of racist Michigan violence
Detroit (15)

Will Poulter in Detroit.

A bullet rings out in the night sky. It’s been discharged from a toy gun by a black man in a hotel room. Shortly afterwards the room is stormed by policemen. The people in the room are thrown against a wall. 

For the next hour they’re insulted, assaulted and threatened with death. Then murder occurs (I won’t say how). The culprits are three trigger-happy policemen. They’re all racists. They’re confident their actions will go unpunished. 

Krauss (Will Poulter) is the main culprit. At first glance he looks like he’s not long out of High School. His eyebrows are ‘V’-shaped. It gives him a vulpine edge. His partners in crime ape his callousness. Will they be convicted or will a whitewash from the powers-that-be exculpate them?

We’re in Detroit in 1967, the year before Martin Luther King was assassinated. A time when black anger  threatens to explode at any moment.  There’s rioting and looting. Members of the National Guard patrol the streets.  

At almost three hours long this (fact-based) film is a modern-day epic. It wipes you out emotionally. It’s so good you feel like standing up at the end and applauding.  If you thought Zero Dark Thirty  – Kathryn Bigelow’s last ‘big’ venture – was something, think again. This puts it in the shade.

Duty

Teaming up with writer Mark Boal for the third time – he did duty on Zero Dark Thirty as well as The Hurt Locker – Bigelow has crafted a pulverising long night’s journey into day. What she’s given us isn’t so much a movie as an experience. You live every moment of her visceral magic.

Films like this only come along once in a blue moon. That’s why we should treasure it. From the moment she sets her sights on the powder keg that’s Detroit we’re hooked. The first half hour is brilliantly recreated. It’s like watching documentary footage on CNN. We’re in a war zone. Thereafter the turbulence becomes centralised into the stand-off in the Algiers Motel, the guts of the film.

Fasten your seatbelts for a pulsating odyssey into hell. Watch a group of defenceless victims face a barrage of abuse – and bullets – from bigots protected from justice by their uniforms and a culture of silence.

We’re back in the time when black people sat at the back of the bus.  One thinks of the great protest songs of Bob Dylan  ‘Hurricane’, ‘The Death of Emmett Till’, ‘The Ballad of Hollis Brown’, ‘Only a Pawn in their Game.’ One thinks of Malcolm X, James Baldwin, Muhammad Ali. 

Black men – and two white women – with nothing on their minds but a night out are sent like lambs to the slaughter as the rampaging wolves of the Michigan Police Force – the protectors of law and order, ha ha – promulgate their reign of terror. 

A bullet rings out in the night sky and the horror begins. Be there to witness it. It will chill you to the bone.

Excellent *****