Saturday, 9 September 2017

Detroit (2017)

Racial tensions are high in late 60s Detroit and that soon boils over into riots. During this period of unrest, the Detroit Police abuse their position when they raid a hotel in search of a sniper.

Having seen a fair few of her films, what I've learnt about director Kathryn Bigelow is that she's an expert when it comes to action and tension but less adept when it comes to the drama. And so that proves to be the case again with 'Detroit', leading to a mixed bag of a film that ultimately underwhelms due to its reliance on the drama needing to work.

In the early stages, things look promising. There's tension in the streets and a fair few trigger happy police. The kind of scenario that plays to Bigelow's strengths and she again proves why she was able to make films like 'The Hurt Locker', 'Zero Dark Thirty', and 'Point Break' work as well as they did. In the case of 'Detroit', she's able to establish the edgy atmosphere where you're just waiting for everything to all go wrong. And so, in the early stages, you get a real sense of the setting and situation.

At the same time, the audience is introduced to the majority of characters who will be involved in the hotel raid. Unfortunately, a lot of these characters are a fairly forgettable lot, not particularly well written or interesting. The only ones you'll likely remember are the ones played by recognisable enough actors. So, in this case, John Boyega, Will Poulter, and, when he pops up, Anthony Mackie (good luck, however, trying to remember their character names).

Of the collection of characters and actors, I thought Poulter was the only one who did anything noteworthy (he was actually quite good). The rest seemed to be sleepwalking through it. Perhaps it's not their fault as some of the drama and staging of personal scenes was flat and the film missed so many emotional marks you wonder why it even bothered (when someone dies and people are meant to mourn the loss, there is no feeling). As the film goes on, this begins to take more of a toll and drag the film down. Tension soon dissipates in the second half and the film lumbers itself to a 140 minute runtime, at which point it has started to lose its rhythm and starts to feel more awkwardly structured.

Actually, the whole film feels rather like one of those recreations you may expect to see on the likes of the History Channel. Albeit a much flashier recreation. As such, I wonder if would have been better off making some changes to its approach to move it more into it being a semi-documentary. At the end of the film, they do say the film is based on people's recollections and it certainly looks like that. It just forgets to chuck in the emotion or involvement to keep it compelling and ultimately seems to be one of those films that believes that it gets a free pass just because it is connected to the civil rights movements.

Perhaps I'm being too mean to the film. Perhaps not. I do like how the film sets the stage and is able to create the necessary atmosphere early on (even if that cartoon bit at the beginning was a bit out of place). And, throughout the film, there are interesting bits and pieces as well as some solid moments (such as the national guard and state police turning a blind eye) and a memorable performance from Will Poulter. But the film lacks the critical emotion depth it needed to sustain the early stages while the central situation itself struggles to keep itself going for the generous runtime. By the end, the film had long run out of steam and never really achieved the dramatic heights it was going for, leaving it as some awkwardly underwhelming piece of film-making.

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