It’s always interesting to see what happens when a film tries to take a tragedy and fictionalize it. Detroit, which takes a look at the Algiers Motel incident from the Detroit riots in the late 60s, takes such liberties that separating fact from fiction is pretty difficult. Kathryn Bigelow is tasked with a difficult situation in that there are things about the incident we know, things that have been lobbed out as accusations and things that are complex enough because of differing accounts that any sort of definitive perspective is unknown.
It has to be difficult in creating a film like this because trying to assert what happened in the face of not knowing is nearly impossible. Throw in the fact that the definitive book on the subject by John Hersey wasn’t available to be used because of its rights being unavailable and the film has to rely on narratives that aren’t as definitive. Detroit winds up taking a pretty gutsy decision and go with a set of events that may not have happened for the sake of the narrative.
Simple premise. It’s 1967 and Detroit isn’t the best place for race relations in the Midwest. When the National Guard are out to help the Detroit PD quell riots after a speakeasy raid things are on edge. They’re pushed further when gunshots apparently ring out of the Algiers Hotel. Raiding the hotel, and coming upon a group of college aged kids partying, the DPD pushes it beyond all sane boundaries to try and find the shooter.
A handful of dead bodies later and the legal proceedings that came out of the event inspired the film.
The film has a definitive three act focus. The film spends the opening 30 minutes on the events leading up to the night of the Algiers Motel, giving us a look into the events of that night (and their fallout). We spend the next hour inside the hotel and the final act with the court system trying to figure out what actually happened inside.
The problem is that the film falls into the category of being a genuinely interesting film, and a really good one at that, coupled with being bad history.
We get an amazing look into a night that has been profiled, examined and looked into for almost 50 years and yet we’re not given any real insight nor do we get the full story. It’s like watching a film about a political event like Truth, which was a decent film but lacking any semblance of truth. It gets a ton wrong, and shouldn’t be relied on as the arbiter of historical accuracy, but the film still gets enough right for us to know what happened in a general, sort of specific way.
The good part about the Blu-Ray is that it has a ton of extras regarding everything that happened that night as the filmmakers tried to get to the truth but without access to the whole story.
20th Century Fox presents Detroit. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow. Written by Mark Boal. Starring Algee Smith, Anthony Mackie, Ben O’Toole, Kaitlyn Dever, Jack Reynor, Jason Mitchell, Hannah Murray, Will Poulter, John Boyega, Jacob Latimore, Nathan Davis Jr.Run Time: 140 minutes. Rated. Released on: 12.12.17