Slow-burning crime drama packs emotional punch

John Boyega as Melvin Dismukes in Detroit  PA/Entertainment One/Francois Duhamel
John Boyega as Melvin Dismukes in Detroit PA/Entertainment One/Francois Duhamel

FILM OF THE WEEK

DETROIT (15, 143 mins) Drama/Thriller/Action/Romance. John Boyega, Will Poulter, Ben O’Toole, Jack Reynor, Algee Smith, Jacob Latimore, Jason Mitchell, Hannah Murray, Kaitlyn Dever. Director: Kathryn Bigelow.

Released: August 25 (UK & Ireland)

In 2010, Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to collect the Academy Award statuette as Best Director for harrowing wartime thriller The Hurt Locker.

Depressingly, there hasn’t been a single Oscar nomination for a female film-maker since then, and Bigelow was snubbed for her work behind the camera on Zero Dark Thirty, which kindled a political firestorm about the use of torture as an interrogation technique.

Her latest white-knuckle ride picks at the fresh wounds of divided race relations in America by reliving one tragic night in a fractured city that resulted in the deaths of three black teenagers.

Released to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the shootings at the Algiers Motel, Detroit is a slow-burning crime drama, which skilfully weaves together multiple character arcs, building to a protracted sequence of gut-wrenching terror that draws uncomfortable parallels with the present day.

Screenwriter Mark Boal employs his journalistic training to distil personal accounts into a rich, textured portrait of civil unrest, intimidation and injustice.

His clinical approach to highly emotive subject matter pricks our consciences and begs feverish debate about how much progress we have honestly made over the past five decades towards an inclusive, multi-cultural global community.

R&B group The Dramatics led by charismatic singer Larry Reed (Algee Smith) are poised to perform on the night of July 25 1967, but rioting forces the venue to suspend the concert.

Larry and his friend Fred Temple (Jacob Latimore) seek shelter at the Algiers Motel, where they catch the eye of two white guests, Julie Ann (Hannah Murray) and Karen (Kaitlyn Dever).

The foursome head to the room of Carl Cooper (Jason Mitchell), who decides to antagonise local police and the National Guard by firing a starter pistol out of his window.

The authorities mistake foolhardy high jinks for sniper fire and armed men in uniform descend on the hotel.

Police officers Philip Krauss (Will Poulter), Flynn (Ben O’Toole) and Demens (Jack Reynor) are among the first on the scene.

They line up several guests against a wall and threaten violence unless someone identifies the marksman.

Private security guard Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega) witnesses the abuse with mounting horror.

When snarling threats lead to tragedy, Krauss urges his compatriots to close ranks.

“Something that took minutes should not define our entire lives,” he growls menacingly.

Detroit employs dramatic licence during the centrepiece stand-off but this doesn’t diminish the sound and fury of Boal’s script and Bigelow’s unfussy direction.

Handheld camerawork stokes tension and sweat-drenched performances from a fine ensemble cast are horribly believable.

Most striking is London-born actor Poulter’s fearless embodiment of a racist cop, who believes the badge on his chest shields him from the long arm of the law.

We have nowhere to hide from the film’s crushing emotional blows.

RATING: 7.5/10