“Detroit” is a new film from Katheryn Bigelow (the director of the original Point Break, Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty, and many others) about the Detroit (unsurprisingly) 12th Street race riot, and in particular the Algiers Motel incident.
That incident is (yet another) one I didn’t really know anything about until seeing the film. I don’t believe it’s one that has gone into ‘common knowledge’ – while I’m no expert on these things, it’s not one I’ve ever heard even mentioned, and I don’t honestly think it’s even left a large imprint on American history.
Anyway, the film is an interesting one – but (in my opinion) tries too hard, telling too many stories in one film. There could have been a film about the riots themselves, the causes, the people, the effects. There could have been a film about just the Algiers incident – although I suspect that the conclusion of that would’ve been deeply unsatisfactory. And there could’ve been one about the aftermath, the court case(s), the people, and what happened to them afterwards.
But trying to do all of those within the scope of one film – admittedly, a bloody long film at 14o-odd minutes – is difficult, at best. It starts with the riots, and we don’t even really meet any of the “main” characters for a good half an hour. Then we go to the Algiers, which is as bad as it could be – and probably pretty truthful, as one of the people involved was on set every day, advising and providing input. And then for the final half hour or so, we’re in the court case, the details, the results, and the aftermath.
If the film had been longer, it might’ve gelled better, become a whole story. As it is, it feels overly-edited, almost like a ‘greatest hits’ rather than a full story. It’s still a good film, and a story that should be told. It’s just that the story deserves to be properly told, not in a hodge-podge of setpieces.