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No, not that movie where Dan Aykroyd pre­tends to be a pimp (that’s Doc­tor Detroit). In­stead, it’s Kathryn Bigelow’s sear­ing real-life drama de­pict­ing the in­fa­mous’ 60s Detroit ri­ots.

DIREC­TOR Kathryn Bigelow

CAST John Boyega, Al­gee Smith, An­thony Mackie, Will Poul­ter, Ja­son Mitchell, John Krasin­ski, Jack Reynor, Han­nah Mur­ray, Kait­lyn Dever

PLOT Detroit, Michi­gan, 1967. In the heat of the in­fa­mous 12th Street up­ris­ing, a task-force, led by racist cop Philip Krauss (Poul­ter), raids the Al­giers Mo­tel search­ing for a sniper. When they fail to find him, the mostly African-amer­i­can guests are sub­jected to a hor­ri­fy­ing storm of ha­tred and vi­o­lence that spills into murder.

FORTY-THREE DEAD, 1,200 in­jured, 7,000 ar­rested, 2,000 build­ings scorched. It’s easy to get lost in the shat­ter­ing scale of the Detroit ri­ots. Over five days in 1967, the Sum­mer Of Love ex­ploded into hate as the civil rights move­ment tipped into civil war. Pow­ered by cen­turies of white op­pres­sion, the African-amer­i­can up­ris­ing left Mo­tor City a burnt-out, smok­ing husk.

Kathryn Bigelow’s evis­cer­at­ing epic, her first since Zero Dark Thirty, war­rants a sub­ti­tle: ‘The Anatomy Of A Riot’. Bigelow is a mas­ter of time­bomb cin­ema and its por­ten­tous, tick-tock­ing rhythms, but Detroit det­o­nates from the open­ing reel. Af­ter a clat­ter of ar­chive news footage, you’re plunged into a com­bustible re­cre­ation of a cop raid on a speakeasy — the flash­point that fu­elled the re­volt. As loot­ing breaks out and the tanks are rolled in, Bigelow sets her cast on a col­li­sion course: Will Poul­ter’s cal­lous cop, in­tro­duced shoot­ing a ri­oter in the back as if he’s out hunt­ing game; Al­gee Smith’s Larry Reed, lead singer in Mo­town soul group The Dra­mat­ics; and John Boyega’s pri­vate se­cu­rity guard, Melvin Dis­mukes.

The riot is into its third day when the three con­verge at the Al­giers Mo­tel — a refuge from the vi­o­lence that, in a hideous twist of irony, be­came the back­drop to a mas­sacre. Alerted by a gun­shot (ac­tu­ally a prank with a starter pis­tol), the Detroit Po­lice and the Na­tional Guard Swiss-cheese the mo­tel with bul­lets, then move in to raid the build­ing. As the in­no­cent sus­pects are rounded up, what starts out as an in­ter­ro­ga­tion rapidly de­scends into a kan­ga­roo court — Krauss (Poul­ter) as judge and jury, and fel­low cop De­mens (Reynor) as his com­pli­ant ac­com­plice. By the end of the night, three of the guests will be dead, nine will have been as­saulted and the cops will saunter out as if noth­ing ever hap­pened. Recre­ated in un­flinch­ing real-time, Detroit’s sus­tained sense-at­tack will be talked about for

years, if not decades, to come — an hour-long en­durance so phys­i­cal you ex­pe­ri­ence it in the pit of your stom­ach.

This has to be the clos­est Bigelow’s come to pure hor­ror since Near Dark, but even that com­par­i­son’s left want­ing. Near Dark was fan­tasy — the hor­ror of Detroit has the sick­en­ing flash of re­al­ity, its true events backed up by Mark Boal’s tena­ciously re­searched screen­play. Bigelow is too cool-eyed to be blinded by sen­ti­ment or shock tac­tics — she restages the Al­giers Mo­tel In­ci­dent as a com­pacted mi­cro­cosm of the era’s race-hate, pow­ered by full-force per­for­mances. Boyega’s se­cu­rity guard is a classic Bigelow char­ac­ter — a rigid pro­fes­sional com­pro­mised by fate and wedged in an im­pos­si­ble po­si­tion: the lo­cals see him as in ca­hoots with the pow­ers-that-be; the cops see him as a sec­ond-class cit­i­zen. Boyega’s in prime form here, while Poul­ter’s cast­ing as Detroit’s dic­ta­to­rial cop is a mas­ter­stroke: that boy­ish face mask­ing a cold bigot who, in the film’s most chill­ing mo­ment of de­hu­man­is­ing dis­grace, de­clares the death-raid as just a game.

Af­ter its breath-steal­ing cen­tre­piece, Detroit’s third act feels like a slow, rasp­ing exhale. There is, in­evitably, a leak­ing out of Detroit’s in­ten­sity, as if you’ve en­tered a de­com­pres­sion cham­ber, but the trauma lingers like toxic gas. Bigelow closes out the film with a genre-switch to court­room drama as the cops and Dis­mukes are held to ac­count in an all-white court with an all-white jury with a white­wash con­clu­sion — an ex­tended af­ter­shock of in­sti­tu­tional bias that of­fers no clo­sure, no com­fort and a dev­as­tat­ing coda for Al­gee Smith’s trau­ma­tised sur­vivor. The Academy is no­to­ri­ously wary when it comes to in­cen­di­ary con­tent, but if Detroit does be­come an Awards player, Smith’s per­for­mance de­serves to be hon­oured.

As with Zero Dark Thirty, Detroit has a clean, raw look, its lu­cid colour pal­ette in­ten­si­fy­ing the clar­ity of Bigelow’s vi­sion. A lot of the shots, es­pe­cially dur­ing its early riot se­quences, feel stolen rather than staged, charged up by vis­ceral, smash-and-grab cam­er­a­work (the film is vividly lensed by Paul Green­grass’ hand­held war­rior of choice, Barry Ack­royd). It’s a tech­nique that turns the pas­sive viewer into an ac­tive wit­ness, but let’s re­mem­ber: this film is for the fallen, then and now. It’s for Michael Brown in Ferguson, Eric Gar­ner in New York, Ezell Ford in LA, Tamir Rice in Cleve­land, Don­tre Hamil­ton in Mil­wau­kee and count­less other vic­tims who’ve lost their lives to es­tab­lish­ment prej­u­dice. Black lives mat­ter, but some deaths echo louder than most. Wake up, says Detroit. Wake up. SI­MON CROOK

VER­DICT A gru­elling, night­mar­ish, fe­ro­ciously vivid riot epic that recre­ates one of the dark­est chap­ters in Amer­i­can his­tory. Un­flinch­ing, un­miss­able and ter­ri­fy­ingly per­ti­nent.

Clock­wise from left: Will Poul­ter’s Krauss pins in­no­cent Fred (Ja­cob La­ti­more) against the wall; John Boyega’s wary se­cu­rity guard Melvin Dis­mukes; 12th Street ri­ot­ing; Kait­lyn Dever as Karen, re­al­is­ing the refuge at the Al­giers Mo­tel is any­thing but.

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