Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit is a slow burn. It forces you to try and experience the emotions until you realize it’s beyond your ability to do so. Then keeps the audience in that state while giving them nothing to really grasp on to for a sense of comfort or relief. It is suffocating. Detroit is less about the sociopolitical context of the events the film is based on, and more focused on the excruciating horror of being at the whim of terrible people who want you to believe that the pain which they are inflicting upon you is for your own good.
The movie is in no rush to get to the event itself that it is based upon. I do not mind in that in this situation. I usually feel a sense of urgency while watching movies where there is some sort of pivotal incident which is only alluded to at most in its advertising. The notion that something big will be revealed is usually the main draw for audiences. I want to see the thing that the director has been keeping from us. But here, there’s a measured guidance through the escalation of the civil unrest and how the film’s characters navigate through it. In terms of putting you in the middle of everything going on, the movie is very good. Shaky camera cinematography typically gets a bad rap and for good reason – it can really disrupt the cohesion of a film. However, this film benefits from Bigelow’s use of the style.
Will Poutler gives a horribly excellent performance. However, it’s hard to imagine he’ll get nominated for any awards. This is not the type of thing that would get nominated for an Oscar. The Oscars do not typically celebrate portrayals such as this. There is a celebratory nature that the Oscars have towards depictions of dramatic and vulnerable strife. This is an incredibly acted role, but for something terrifying and ugly, not something I think people are comfortable rewarding in the public spotlight.
Bigelow seems a little too willing to really indulge in the torture that these young black men and women endure. Putting you in the event is certainly her specialty – The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty were not so much about the top-down views or overall political environments that the plots occurred within. They were about, and excelled at, sharing the subjects’ perspectives of a conflict in an almost ultra-real time fashion. Detroit executes this style yet again in Bigelow’s most forceful way yet – whether or not that is the best way to go about portraying this tragedy can be up for debate. Detroit is disturbing and upsetting, and captures the nauseating and claustrophobic pressure under which atrocities unfold, if it doesn’t entirely treat the people of color who were victims in this incident with perhaps the respect or sensitivity that they deserve