Riots break out in the city of Detroit, Michigan, in 1967. The local police, state police and national guard are all called in to stop the disaster that is occurring. In the midst of this struggle, murder occurs at the Algiers Motel while the local police investigate gun fire they heard coming from the area of the motel. So, does “Detroit” paint a believable reenactment of the true events that took place ? Or is this just another made for television, historical, movie that high school kids will fall asleep in during History class. Let’s dive in and take a look in this review.
This film is advertised as a look back at the events that took place in Detroit, as well as, the Algiers Motel. This is partly true. The run time is close to 2.5 hours but the events that occur at the Algiers don’t take the full length. The riots in Detroit also do not take the full amount of time. I would say, it felt like three quarters of the movie is riots and Algiers. The remaining portion is the court hearing for the local police and a look at the lives of the people in the film after everything is said and done. So, the film is broken down in 3 different parts. I’m not speaking about 1st, 2nd and 3rd act either. The actual story is told from 3 different points of interest.
The first point is a look at the city of Detroit. The film opens with a look at the migration flow of people moving to Detroit post the Civil War. From there we get to see the events leading up to the riots, the riots themselves and the journey that eventually leads us to the Motel Algiers. Once at the Motel, we see what is described at the end of the film as a look at the possible events as told from eye witnesses, court docs, etc. However, we don’t get that disclaimer until the end of the film. Once the horrific events at Algiers conclude, we’re now in part 2. This second portion looks at the criminal court case, and proceedings that took place, with regard to the shootings and murders at the Motel. Once that concludes, we’re safely into part 3. Here get to see how all the events shaped the lives of the people in the film. We also get to see where the survivors are today.
The film initially confused me. As I walked out of the theater I had to recalibrate my thinking because I was under the assumption we’d see the Motel part and that was the movie. We get to see that, yes, but, and more importantly, the film examines life from the perspectives of the protagonists. Once the Motel scenes concluded I looked at my watch because I couldn’t believe 2.5 hours was already over. Indeed, the movie was not over and we were getting a deeper look into how the main characters view the world. It’s this sudden revelation that won me over for this film. This is not a story about the Detroit riots or the Motel Algiers. Those are merely plot devices used to show, on screen, the distrust that we hear about between black communities and the police. This movie brilliantly shows us the good and the bad. It puts to screen visual reasons that are understandable once the film concludes. You might not agree, but you will at least have a better understanding when you hear someone proclaim the system is rigged, police are out to get us, and more. This movie did well to show us the tragedy involved during the civil rights movement in America. Once I realized that this movie is more of a statement about race relations and culture over riots and murder, I appreciated this film all the more.
The characters in this film are all important with respect to race relations. The entire time I didn’t understand why Anthony Mackie and John Boyega were in it because I didn’t see them really moving the plot along. However, once I made the realization that this is a story about race relations, it all made sense. Boyega plays a security guard who was helping the police and national guard but still gets thrown in jail towards the end of the film as a suspect to the murders. Even while doing the right thing, his character is mistreated. Mackie, a veteran with two terms of service who was in Detroit looking for work now that he’s honorably discharged from the military. He is abused and mistreated by the police at the Motel even after showing his government card for service. This film really digs into the mindset and beliefs we hear about on the news about cops mistreating black America. While you might not agree with this sentiment, the movie explores that belief we still hear about today, some 50 years later, approximately.
“Detroit” is in theaters now! If you like historical movies you’ll enjoy this. It’s a very difficult movie to watch and I don’t believe everyone has the fortitude to sit through the whole story. So, because of that, I will still recommend people see it but I will add a word of caution while you make your decision. This is intense, unsettling and disturbing. My only real criticism is the run time of 2.5 hours. I feel they could’ve edited this film down and not lost any of the drama and intensity they were going for. I enjoyed it but my goodness, it’s a long movie that requires a lot of emotional energy from the audience.