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Detroit : A Review


My Rating : 0 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation : SKIP IT. DO. NOT. SEE. THIS. MOVIE. This movie is the cinematic equivalent of something you'd find floating in your toilet. It is awful beyond words. An absolute and unmitigated disaster of a film. 

Detroit, directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by Mark Boal, is the story of a racially motivated police brutality incident at the Algiers Motel during the infamous Detroit riots during  the summer of 1967. The film's ensemble cast includes John Boyega, Will Poulter and Anthony Mackie among many others. 

I had high hopes for the film Detroit. The reason I was so intrigued by Detroit is that I am a very strange person who is fascinated by the history, psychology and cause of riots in America. Be it the draft riots during the civil war or the riots a hundred years later in Newark, Watts, Philadelphia and Detroit, or the infamous Rodney King riots in Los Angeles in the early 90's. What sparks a riot? What is its fuel? And how do individuals and society react when the crowd loses control? Are all topics I could learn and talk about for days on end. So a movie about the 1967 Detroit riot is right up my alley, count me all in. Then I went and saw Detroit

I say this without any glee, but Detroit is not only a terrible movie, it is easily the worst film I have seen in recent memory (it makes Kong: Skull Island look like Citizen Kane). Detroit is so appalling it is difficult for me to articulate the scope and scale of its deplorability except to say that as I watched it I fantasized that a riot would break out in Los Angeles and someone would light the theatre on fire with me in it so I'd no longer have to watch this pile of garbage.

In my adult life I have only walked out of one film, that being Mel Brook's Robin Hood: Men in Tights in 1993, and I walked out of it because it was horrendous and it was a free screening so I didn't pay for it. It took all of my might and fortitude not to walk out of Detroit. The only reason I stayed and suffered through its entire two and half hour running time was because I felt a duty to watch the whole thing before I wrote a review of it. In other words, I did it all for you, my dear readers….so you owe me…big league!!

Detroit opens with a jaw-droppingly tired and corny animated piece meant to give context to the Black experience in Detroit that led to the riots. I cringed when I saw it because it was such a frivolous and vacuous explanation for such a complex and compelling issue. I should have walked out right then and there. As the absurd little animation ran I got a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that this was going to be bad…but I convinced myself that this was just one small misstep and things would get better. I was wrong…things went down hill from there. Then, after suffering through nearly two hours of vapid nonsense, just when I thought the film had bottomed out and could not become any more ridiculous, monotonous and redundant, then Jim from The Office strolls onto the screen to play a shark of a lawyer in the final third of the film that was already way too long. John Krasinski is so miscast as a defense attorney it left me muttering and shaking my head wondering when this nightmare would be finally over.

Why is Detroit such a catastrophe? Well, let's start with the basics, the writing, casting, directing, acting, cinematography, sound, lighting, costuming, make-up and editing are all appallingly atrocious. Besides that how was the movie, Mrs. Lincoln? 

Just from a filmmaking perspective, Detroit is so dreadfully made it is shameful. The film is completely devoid of the most rudimentary storytelling skill and craft. The movie is an amateurish, sloppy, incoherent, interminable disaster area with absolutely no redeeming value whatsoever. None. The technical aspects of the filmmaking are no better. The cinematography is muddled and flat, the sound sub-par and the make-up and costumes so atrocious as to be cringe-worthy. 

Kathryn Bigelow won a Best Director Oscar for The Hurt Locker, but her direction in Detroit is so abhorrently lazy, unimaginative and trite that I think her Academy Award should be revoked and she should be exiled from filmmaking forever. Bigelow proves herself to be a careless, craft-less and unskilled director with her disgraceful work on DetroitDetroit should be a serious film, but Bigelow is an unserious director. She is incapable of even the most rudimentary of filmmaking skills, and along with her screenwriter Mark Boal, proves herself to be intellectually shallow and artistically incurious by reducing the characters and narrative to a contrived Manichean melodrama.

There has been some debate as to whether a white director (Bigelow is white) should direct a film like Detroit because understanding the Black experience is so integral to the film. I think artists of any color or gender should direct whatever stories they want, but they need to be at least remotely proficient in their craft. Bigelow is not proficient, she is staggeringly deficient and her lack of talent and ability are made all the more egregious by the fact that she soiled and degraded what is such a potentially fascinating and worthy subject matter. Bigelow's ineptitude reduced the dramatic bombshell of civil unrest and racial strife in 1967 Detroit to nothing more than a hackneyed, contrived, maudlin, unmoored, unbelievable and ultimately cinematically insipid and dramatically flaccid endeavor. If she had the slightest bit of artistic self-awareness she would be utterly ashamed, but I am willing to bet that isn't the case. 

Some have assailed the film for being pornographically violent, which I find laughable. The violence would need to be compelling or even interesting for it to rise to the level of pornography. The problem with Detroit is that since there is zero character development, the viewer has no attachments to anyone on screen, therefore the violence is not jarring, but tedious. Add to that the fact that the choreography of the violence and the make-up are so second rate as to be embarrassing, thus rendering the scars and blood more chuckle-worthy than horrifying. If Detroit were violence porn it would at least rise to the level of being interesting or repulsive as opposed to being dull and boring, which is what it is.

The cast may be fine actors, but they are certainly wasted here. The acting feels more like little kids playing make-believe in their parents basement more than anything else. Will Poulter may be a good actor, I don't know, but he is so bad in Detroit I actually felt bad for him. He looks like he's twelve years old, and he is supposed to be this menacing lunatic who lusts for Black blood. It is an eye-rollingly horrendous performance. Frankly it isn't all his fault, the character is so poorly written and one dimensional that they might have been better off just propping up a cardboard cutout of a White cop and having it stand there in each scene. 

John Boyega is the lone bright spot in the film. I have only seen him in the Star Wars movie and thought he lacked charisma in that film, but in Detroit he hits a sweet spot and even though his character is poorly written as well, Boyega fills him with a believable and palpable inner life. After reading about the actual incident at the Algiers Hotel, it seems that Bigelow and Boal both dropped the ball on Boyega's character, as he is infinitely more interesting, complex and more nuanced in real life than they make him out to be in their film. 

As mentioned in the last two paragraphs, the writing of Detroit is grievously unacceptable. Mark Boal who wrote Bigelow's last two films, The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, turns in an execrable script. Boal's script is so incoherent and ungainly that it didn't just need dozens more edits, but rather to be trashed entirely never having seen the light of day. It is almost incomprehensible that anyone read this script and thought that it was even remotely screen-worthy. Boal has exactly one more Academy Award for screenwriting than I do, but good Lord he churned out a steaming pile of dog mess with Detroit

After bolting from the theatre the very second the film ended, I sat in the lobby and looked online to see what critics were saying about the movie. I never read reviews, but I had to see if people hated the movie as much as I did. I went to Rotten Tomatoes and saw that the film was at 98% critical praise (it has since gone slightly down). I was rendered shocked and speechless by that revelation, and also remembered why it is I never read reviews. Detroit is so awful that it is inconceivable that anyone with even the most remote understanding of the art and craft of filmmaking would think it is worthwhile. Then after meditating on it for a few moments, I understood what was happening. 

Reviewers are saying they like Detroit not because it is well-made or a top-notch film, they are saying good things about it because they do not want to be labelled racist. This is a common occurrence when it comes to racially themed films. When Spielberg made Lincoln, which is an abysmal mess of a movie, reviewers bent over backwards to say how great it was in order to avoid being branded racist. One slightly critical reviewer explicitly stated that even though he didn't love the film, he still was against slavery. He literally said that…out loud. And so it is with Detroit. You are not a serious cinephile or film connoisseur if you think Detroit is an even average level film. You are demeaning the art of filmmaking if you do not clearly state the rancid awfulness of this movie. Hating a poorly made film about racism does not make you a racist, it makes you an honest, truth-telling critic. 

Another reason critics are tentative to trash the film is that it is directed by a woman, and the fear of being labelled a misogynist is almost as strong as the fear of being labelled a racist. The bottom line is this, Kathryn Bigelow is not a shitty director because she is a woman, she is a shitty director because SHE IS A SHITTY DIRECTOR. It isn't complicated. I understand that critics are not exactly known for their intestinal fortitude, but if any reviewer recommends Detroit to you, instantly know that they are a spineless shill who do not care about cinema but about their delicate reputations. 

Obviously Detroit frustrated me no end. The reason for that is that the subject matter is so relevant and vital to our current times. Understanding the why’s and how's of the Detroit riots, and the atrocity at the Algiers Hotel, are crucial if we are to move forward as a nation and culture. He who forgets will be destined to remember, but with Detroit we are given a false and vacant memory absolutely devoid of insight. Bigelow's failure to bring any clarity to the narrative or understanding to the topic, are not only egregious filmmaking errors, but cultural and historical sins. She should not be forgiven for this, or for the shameless propaganda piece she sold to America with Zero Dark Thirty

Detroit, or as I have taken to calling it Detritus, is exactly that, a piece of cinematic detritus that should be banished as quickly as possible. The film will no doubt get lots of Oscar nominations for the sole reason that it is directed by a woman, and the Academy wants to push movies directed by women, and also because it is an "important" film about race, and God knows the Academy wants to embrace movies about "race" lest they suffer the idiotic wrath of the factually nonsensical #OscarsSoWhite campaign again. But do not be fooled by the sycophants at Rolling Stone or the New York Times of Washington Post, Detroit is a cinematic abomination. It IS about an important topic, but that doesn't make it important. Think of it this way, Donald Trump is President, does that mean he is presidential? 

In conclusion, Detroit is the worst movie of the year, if not the decade and possibly the new century and the old one too. The film's only value is to expose the critics of the big, mainstream publications for the charlatans and shills that they are. Ignore those critics and ignore this film. If I ever have to sit through Detroit again, I will unleash my pent up rage and burn not only Los Angeles, but all of America to the ground. On the bright side, I promise you that my one-man riot will be infinitely more interesting, insightful and entertaining than the shit sandwich that is Detroit