by Todd McCarthey
Kathryn Bigelow’s latest effort is a docudrama about the 1967 Detroit riots, focusing on a specific incident of police violence against a group of black men at a hotel.
Rated R, 143 minutes
A particularly nasty historical instance of police brutality against African-Americans is wrenched back into the spotlight on its 50th anniversary in Detroit. Shot docudrama style with an emphasis on visceral force above all else, this third collaboration over a nine-year stretch between director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal, after The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, emerges, creatively, as the least of the trio; intense and physically powerful in the way it conveys its atrocious events, the film nonetheless remains short on complexity, as if it were enough simply to provoke and outrage the audience. It’s a grim tale with no catharsis. Annapurna Pictures’ first feature film release can’t help but stir plenty of sympathetic attention in the press and among political activists, but audiences keen to put themselves through this wringer will remain somewhat limited.
Like Nate Parker’s now conveniently forgotten The Birth of a Nation last year, the new film is a based-on-real-events drama determined to pummel the viewer with a tough, unvarnished perspective on a violent episode in American racial annals that’s deeply unsettling. Historically, there’s little question that in Detroit the white authorities were the bad guys, so unless the creative artists are inclined to delve beneath this rendering to examine nuances on both sides, it’s uncertain what the film has to offer other than a punch to the gut.
The match that lit the fire on July 23, 1967, was a police raid on a Detroit after-hours bar in a black neighborhood where friends were celebrating the return of two locals from the Vietnam War. Things got out of hand, to the point where a local black assemblyman implored his constituents not to “mess up your own neighborhood.” But…