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Thread: DETROIT (Kathryn Bigelow 2017)

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    DETROIT (Kathryn Bigelow 2017)

    KATHRYN BIGELOW: DETROIT (2017)


    ANTHONY MACKIE IN DETROIT

    Bigelow's punishing depiction of racism

    Kathryn Bigelow's Detroit is her third and least satisfying collaboration with the writer Mark Boal. It is a torturous docudrama (it awkwardly interjects stock footage) whose general topic is the July 1967 unrest in the city of auto manufacturing and soul music. After a diffuse start it zeroes in on the Algiers Motel Incident, a notorious event of that moment in the course of which three young black men were killed in cold blood by police using a brutal interrogation method called "the death game" to find the identity of a supposed sniper. There is no need to put audiences through real-time torture sequences that traumatize them at such length. This is a messy and unclear film. Why was it made? Is it well-timed, or badly-timed? Striving for significance, Bigelow achieves violence porn instead.

    There is absolutely no faulting the many fine actors involved in Detroit. Among them we especially notice the English actor John Boyega as the part-time security guard Dismukes, who tries to protect black victims and winds up charged in their murder; Will Poulter as Krauss, an invented composite of the racist murdering white cops at the Algiers; Anthony Mackie, co-star of THe Hurt Locker, playing a Vietnam vet, and Algee Smith and Jacob Latimore, playing Larry Reed and Fred Temple, two promising young singers unlucky enough to have holed up at the motel for the evening. These and numerous other cast members are vivid and good, and Bigelow has made a great effort to bring her many scenes to life.

    But things go badly from early on with the excessive use of shakey-cam in depicting the street strife by Bigelow's Hurt Locker dp Barry Ackroyd. As Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of A.V. Club puts it, Ackroyd "specializes in making movies look like they couldn’t afford the services of a professional cinematographer; his impatient style is half vérité mockumentary, half grandma’s camcorder." This is where the viewer-punishment begins, with over-close images of figures jostling about in a crowd. When cops get into a vehicle, the camera zeroes in on the rocker panels. Events are torturous enough without making them continually jittery.

    From the street unrest, the film jumps to other, more specific, scenes. We see how early on in the rioting in the daytime Krauss kills a fleeing man, shooting him in the back, and is questioned and warned but not charged. As night falls, we follow a young male singing group, the Dramatics, handsome, charismatic and talented, who at the last minute lose their chance at a debut at the Fox Theater because of a police shut-down after Marsha and the Vandellas, just when the Dramatics are announced and about to step on stage. This is traumatic for the young lead singer. We also follow Dismukes in several actions. He acts as a peacemaker between white cops and black rebels, but gets called an Uncle Tom for his troubles. In the evening, he is stationed to guard a grocery store right across from the motel.

    The prolongued "death game" torture sequence involves repeated beatings of a row of motel guests, to whom we've been introduced, including two young white women from Ohio who may be prostitutes (one, certainly). All of them are terrorized by Krauss, directing two other Detroit cops, while state cops and National Guardsmen come and go, seeing things are going wrong but mostly unwilling to intervene.

    Bigelow and Boal treat this set of events in great detail, so it outweighs all the rest. But then there will be interrogations, a trial, the anger and sorrow of the black families of the three victims who go unrevenged, the traumatizing of the singer who left the group and still sings with a choir instead. There were other trials, but the movie only shows one. There is extensive recreation and extrapolation here, but that doesn't mean rigorous accuracy, by any means.

    Detroit is an enormous waste of talent, which seems increasingly Kathryn Bigelow's story. Before Dark and Point Break showed a great talent. The Hurt Locker shows in spades her fascination and skill with macho violence. It is over the top, but succeeds through its focus on Jeremy Renner's bomb detonator which becomes a study of his dangerous and nerve-wracking occupation and of his narrow and obsessive personality. But with Zero Dark Thirty, which also drew a lot of attention, this time on a woman terrorism investigator, Bigelow gets bogged down in "significance" that she's not quite up to: her talents lie with creative use of genre, not Haneke-style profundity. The real significance of July 1967 Detroit would be to show how a riot was, in its core, a rebellion - and yet how that rebellion was turned by poverty and lack of leadership into rioting.

    Detroit, 143 mins., had limited US theatrical release 28 July 2017; wider release 4 august; 25 Aug. UK.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-28-2017 at 11:47 AM.

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    An African American view of Detroit: it's "well made torture porn."
    From MTR Movie Trailer Network.
    Detroit is a film that is well made, well acted but ultimately leaves you wondering who exactly this film was made for and why. We left the theater angry at what was shown in this film and while on the surface that might be viewed as the purpose of the film, that’s not good enough. The film is basically black torture porn where the villains (white cops) win in the end. There aren’t any moments where the past is tied to the present or a reflective call to arms for the audience. Instead it does what Kathryn Bigelow does best which is humanize white men who are terrible individuals while using black and brown people as punching bags. There are a lot of ways this film could have been made to address the tough subject matter without making it feel like an empty, deflating snuff film but that’s not what happened. The film makes a point to mention that there is debate over exactly what happened at the Algiers Motel that night yet it has no problem going into gory details drummed up from the filmmaker’s own mind.
    For the rest of the review click on the link.
    A.O. Scott's NYTimes review goes on and on and on earnestly, but he does not see this. He keeps saying the movie is important and well made; he can't see the possibility that it might be punishing and pernicious.

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    Thanks Chris.
    DULY NOTED.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

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    Sorry to have to say it.



    By the way, I forgot to mention John Hersey's 1968 book of investigative journalism, The Algiers Motel Incident, plus his follow-up coverage of those involved, made these events well known. The filmmakers say they did not make any use of it (perhaps because Hersey assured the victims he interviewed his book would not be made into a film?).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-30-2017 at 05:31 PM.

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    Shenequa Golding of VIBE: another black person's response to Bigelow's Detroit.


    JOHN BOYEGA IN DETROIT

    VIBE has another review, "'DETROIT' Gives Very Little To The Black Community To Hold On To," that's almost totally negative and it's by a black woman writer, Shenequa Golding. It is pretty clear she is not pleased, though one cannot tell black people not to watch this high profile film about black life. Here are some excerpts with my highlighting.

    It’s hard to decipher if Bigelow was drunk off the allure of dramatizing black tragedy or wanted to showcase emotional black trauma for the sake of showcasing emotional black trauma, but there is very little to hold onto in this film. The audience initially receives it in small doses in the first 30-35 minutes. Whether it be seeing police mercilessly beat a black man in the street, or a sniper shoot through an open window killing a child. The first proper heart-wrenching moment comes when Officer Krauss (Will Poulter) sees Leon (Tyler James Williams) walking out of a looted store with two grocery bags full of items. Leon gives chase and Krauss shoots him twice in the back with a shotgun as he tries to climb a fence.

    As if we didn’t see Walter Scott suffer the same fate for a lesser offense.

    Make no mistake, this is a horror film being marketed as a period piece and Krauss is the most ferocious villain of them all. Played by the 24-year-old U.K. born actor, for the black community Poulter’s character is the boogeyman, he is the monster under our beds and no matter how much light sneaks into our room from mama leaving our bedroom door open, Krauss is still frightening. When asked how he washed his psychopathic character away, Poulter–who is warm, open, and bright–told VIBE it was easy to walk away from the heavy role but finding an entry point into the illogical mind of a racist proved to be the most challenging.

    Krauss and his two cronies Flynn (Brian O’Toole) and Demens (Jack Reynor) are born and bred domestic terrorists armed with the power of the law which only emboldens their unjustified aggression. As Reid, Fred, Karen, Julie and Greene, a veteran (Anthony Mackie) face the wall with their hands up, the three cops enact the "death game" in which they take one into a room, fire off a shot, and tell the person to be quiet "or the next one’s for real." The others outside think their friend is dead and this is supposed to be the interrogation tactic that will inspire them to fess up to a gun that doesn’t exist. If not that, then a constant beating from fists, the butt of a gun to the temple of a forehead or any other form of violence is used.

    Lingering throughout the motel is John Boyega’s character, Dismukes, who has the legal authority to stop the egregious abuse of power by his fellow men in uniform, but is crippled with fear and outnumbered. Dismukes wants to intervene but is alone and offers the little help he can by advising a motel attendee to "survive the night." Dismukes is meek, even-keeled but the equivalent to low-impact cardio. This is not to say powerful performances can’t possess gentleness, but Bigelow doesn’t offer a backstory for Dismukes leaving little, once again, for attendees to hold onto.

    And if the horror of the motel isn’t enough, Bigelow takes you through the entire trial where the verdict is all too familiar. If there is one redeemable aspect to the film it would be the small role of Aubrey Pollard Sr. (Gbenga Akinnagbe). In the film, Mr. Pollard gets a phone call and learns his son was at the Algiers Motel and the gentleness that already lives in his eyes is first replaced with denial and then sorrow. Akinnagbe’s role and delivery proves one of the young men killed was loved, received love and most likely gave love. He wasn’t just another dead nigger, but yet, Akinnagbe’s role was still there as a facilitator of the pain endured.

    I can’t help but wonder how this gruesome story with no silver lining would be told had the film and script been handled by a person of color. There is emotional terrorism, psychological trauma and a hodgepodge of anger and helplessness that stays with you. These scents are the cologne of an already oppressed people. The ballooning resentment and injustice that grows throughout the film is also too much to swallow, but aside from just telling the story, where Bigelow falls short is the fact the film is devoid of any real empathy. If the Academy-Award winning director assumes dead black bodies will inspire an outpouring of support for black people in America, Emmett Till’s open casket proved Sister Bigelow wrong many moons ago.

    The African-American community does more than endure. Kathryn Bigelow knows this, I hope.

    I also wonder who this film is for? At the bottom of the movie poster, it reads "It’s time we knew." Who is we? And know what? If you’re black in America this story may very well be your existence, if you’re not black, well, it must be nice to personify the old adage ignorance is bliss.

    DETROIT hits theaters August 4. Good luck.

    Shenequa Golding
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-30-2017 at 04:41 PM.

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    Time's reviews are negative (there are several).

    By Alexander Nazaryan (Armenian-American?):

    Bigelow does far too little to complicate our expectations. The lead bully among the cops, Krauss (played by an eternally sneering Will Poulter), is exactly the racist bully you’ve known him to be since the opening of the film, when he shoots a looter in the back, killing him. Reprimanded by a senior detective with a sense of dignity, Krauss is allowed to return to the streets of Detroit, where crooked cops are apparently better than no cops at all. Later, at the Algiers, he is too stupid to see how his escalating violence is going to spell his own doom.It’s not that we need to understand Krauss, or to explain his racism and violence. But for view- ers expecting some deeper truth about what happened 50 years ago, and what is still happening today, a cartoonish cop—just a thug with a gun and badge—is not enough.

    Frankly, Detroit could have used more Detroit, more of the panoramic view Bigelow teases at the movie’s opening. The scenes of the police abusing the innocent guests at the motel are meant to enrage the viewer, and at first they do, but they occupy the better part of this two-hour film and, before long, the discomforting realization is that you’ve grown bored by the relentless brutality.

    Was Bigelow, who is white, the right person to make this movie? The question seems inevitable, given the intense debate over cultural appropriation, but also impossible to answer.
    Race doesn’t have to be a barrier: In American Pastorial, Philip Roth wrote beautifully about racial unrest in 1967 Newark. And Loving, by the white director Jeff Nichols, is an indelible statement on the crushing effects of bigotry.

    What’s missing from Bigelow’s film is not sensitivity but nuance. Her characters never come alive, moving through the film less as people than entries in a sociology textbook.
    It’s an especially striking shortcoming because Bigelow was so good, in both The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, at intensely engrossing deconstructions of people far outside her experience. If Bigelow could get inside the minds of soldiers suffocated by post-traumatic stress disorder, as she did so capably in The Hurt Locker, she can get into the mind of anyone. In Zero Dark Thirty, she made even CIA interrogators likeable. The characters in Detroit, though, black and white, are as flat as the plains of the Upper Midwest.
    Stephanie Zacharek's is less totally critical (again, excerpts):
    But if Detroit—written by Mark Boal, who has also made two other pictures with Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker—is a well-intentioned picture, it’s also a flawed one. This is filmmaking that sets out to make its points but fails, in big ways and small ones, to forge an emotional connection with most of its characters. In a strange way, it’s more fixated on the white cops, Krauss (Will Poulter) and Flynn (Ben O’Toole)—their characters are stand-ins for the real-life cops in the Algiers Motel case, Ronald August and Robert Paille—who figure prominently in the film’s extended, excruciating centerpiece..
    . The sequence is brutally effective in the sense that it’s likely to make you ashamed to be an American. (I certainly felt shame.) But effective filmmaking isn’t always the same as good filmmaking. And subjecting your audience to unrelenting grimness, as Bigelow does, isn’t the best way to convey the weight of real-life brutality and injustice. It doesn’t help that Poulter and O’Toole give clumsily shaped performances that distract from the violence at hand rather than heighten it. They come at their characters with a mustache-twirling cartoonishness. If only evil were so easy to identify in real life.

    [She notes the fine acting of Boyega and Smith.]

    But in dealing with the riots overall, Bigelow fails to give us a sense of the city’s geography, a sense of what’s happening where, especially after federal troops and National Guardsmen are brought in to help quell the looting and arson. The story sprawls out of her control in places where pinpoint control is needed. And the movie’s wrap-up, where we learn what happened to the police officers charged in the murders of the three victims—their punishment, or lack thereof, won’t come as a surprise—feels hasty and unshaped. Detroit is the type of movie we need right now. But there’s no shame in wishing that it were a better one.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-30-2017 at 05:20 PM.

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