Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit is something that I feel quite mixed about. It is definitely well made; and it has some terrific parts and performances. But the first and final acts take away from the experience of the picture.
First, the good. I really enjoyed how the movie was shot. It was done in that documentary-style that other directors like Paul Greengrass enjoy using. It added to the atmosphere of the movie and made it seem much more gritty and real. Which is smart as this is a dramatization of something that was inspired by a real life event. Will Poulter is the stand out actor in the film. If anyone will be getting an award for this movie, it will probably be him. As the main villain, he is menacing, and terrifying and all the right ways. Everyone else did a good job with the material, like John Boyega and Anthony Mackie as well. The dialogue, with a few exceptions was also pretty solid for the most part. It helped develop the characters and who they were as people without explaining everything. The whole scene in the Algiers Motel is so well done that it is thrilling and helps display Mark Boal’s screenwriting abilities. (Check out Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker (2008) to also see Boal’s talents as a writer).
As for my gripes with the movie, it all started with the editing. I disliked the cutting to real photos of the 1967 Detroit riots. It felt unnecessary to include and took me away from the actual movie. In the beginning, the film also felt oddly paced when leading up to the riots. As that part was rushed way too much and needed some more buildup. The ending also felt drawn-out and probably deserved less time then it was given. I understand what they were trying to do with the end of the movie.
With Detroit, the sad thing is that the whole middle of the film is an intense and emotional ride. And it is sadly book-ended by a mediocre and poorly paced beginning and end. Bigelow picked an interesting script about a deeply saddening event that happened, but I think that it could have been executed a little better than it turned out. But that doesn’t change the fact that Will Poulter is an extremely talented actor that gave it is all in this film.