A police raid in Detroit in 1967 results in one of the largest RACE riots in United States history. The story is centred around the Algiers Motel incident, which occurred in Detroit, Michigan on July 25, 1967, during the racially charged 12th Street Riot. It involves the death of three black men and the brutal beatings of nine other people: seven black men and two white women.
You're the Cream of the Crop
Written by Lee Rogers, Dave Hall, Pete Hall, Mike Hanks and Clara Williams
Performed by Lee Rogers
Courtesy of Tuff City Records
By arrangement with Ocean Park Music Group See more »
enlightening, but frustrating
Long before the 1992 L.A. riots that were sparked by the Rodney King verdict, in 1967, the city of Detroit endured riots depicted in the historical crime drama "Detroit" (R, 2:23). The two uprisings were separated by a quarter century, but the underlying causes and results were very similar. Back in 1943, in the middle of World War II, Detroit had previously been the scene of major rioting. Those two Detroit uprisings were separated by nearly a quarter century, but the underlying causes and results were very similar. The riots of '43 were an expression of frustration by the black community over poor economic conditions and abusive treatment by police. Some of the police committed additional abuses while trying to put down the riots, while some of the rioters took advantage of the chaotic situation to loot business, destroy buildings and harm people who had nothing to do with the problems in their communities. 24 years later, many of the same conditions and frustrations still existed in Detroit's black communities and in July 1967, in the middle of the Vietnam War, tensions boiled over again, with similar results. Almost exactly 50 years after those riots, Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow ("The Hurt Locker") chronicles what happened during that week in Detroit and, in particular, tries to clarify the still somewhat murky story of what took place on the night of July 25-26 at a motel called the Algiers.
In 1967, Detroit's inner city was a tinderbox of racial tension and social unrest, needing only a spark to make it explode. This film starts by showing the incident that provided that spark – and depicts the explosion that followed. Late Saturday night / early Sunday morning, July 23, 1967, police raided an unlicensed drinking establishment on 12th Street. The police, who were almost all white, arrested everyone who was in the club, all of whom were black. A crowd gathered outside began harassing the police and throwing things, forcing the police to withdraw as soon as their raid was complete. Emotions were running high and the crowd began looting nearby stores, beginning what turned out to be about five days of riots. Police tried to restore order, but weren't supposed to shoot looters, although that's exactly what we police officer Phillip Krauss (Will Poulter) do. As the violence continued, public events were being cancelled, such as a concert where the up and coming singing group The Dramatics was just about to take the stage. Instead, the guys hopped a bus and tried to make it home, but the chaos of the ongoing rioting led them to take refuge in The Algiers. Very close to that motel was black security guard Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega) who got called in to help protect his boss' grocery store from looters. Dismukes makes nice with the National Guard troops who take up a position across the street by bringing them coffee and chatting them up. And so the stage is set for the Algiers Motel Incident.
The Algiers was filling up fast with people seeking safety from the ongoing riots. Almost all of the Algiers' guests were black, but there were two 18-year-old white girls there (Kaitlyn Dever and Hannah Murray), visiting from Ohio. They are approached by one of the guys from the Dramatics, "Cleveland" Larry Reed (Algee Smith) and his friend, Fred Temple (Jacob Latimore) and the four of them get friendly, hanging out by the motel pool. Later, they go up to the room of Carl Cooper (Jason Mitchell), where there is a small party going on. As Cooper is messing around with one of his friends, he fires off a starter pistol that others think is a real gun. Soon, the sound catches the attention of people outside who now think there is a sniper shooting from the Algiers. National Guard troops, Michigan State Police and Detroit police, led by officer Krauss swarm the hotel, some of them literally shooting first and asking questions later. Dismukes ends at the Algiers too, but Krauss takes the lead. He and his fellow cops spend the rest of the night terrorizing, threatening, abusing and eventually killing motel guests, at first trying to find out who the "sniper" is and, later, covering their tracks when things get out of hand. Krauss struggles to orchestrate and continue the cover-up as he, two other officers and Dismukes stand trial for murder.
"Detroit" is a strong and valuable dramatization of historical events, but falls short of its true potential. As Bigelow directs the script by Mark Boal (with whom she also collaborated on "The Hurt Locker" and "Zero Dark Thirty"), she tries to do too much. She shows scenes of the 12 Street Riot without really setting up the vital historical context or effectively portraying its development. When she gets to what she really wants to focus on, the Algiers Motel Incident, she allows to hang over those scenes the question as to why the people who knew that Cooper only had a starter pistol never said so while the police were brutally interrogating them. And then the courtroom scenes are so short and tightly edited, that they don't really tell us much. By trying to tell two stories – the general story of the riots – and the specific story of the Algiers and its aftermath, the film doesn't tell either of them especially well. However, Bigelow does present images of 1967 Detroit that look so authentic, you'll almost think you're actually there, and she gets excellent performances from all of her actors, regardless of their varying levels of experience. The two main things Movie Fans will learn from this movie regarding race relations in America (especially with stories like this one regularly echoing in the news) are how far we've come, and far we have yet to go. To be sure, both are important lessons, but "Detroit" could have accomplished so much more. "B"
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