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.
Survivor Julie Ann Hysell was on set as a consultant throughout most of the shoot. Vietnam vet Robert Greene was still alive, but the producers couldn't reach him. See more »
In the film, The Algiers Motel is across a wooded city block, on a parallel street to the Great Lakes Mutual Insurance building being guarded by police and the National Guard. The troops and police can see the motel and the windows of the Annex house straight on, because the motel faces the front of that building. In real life, the Great Lakes building is right next door to the Algiers, on the same side of the same street. People in front of the building wouldn't have been able to see the front of the motel or the Annex house, at least not at the clear angle depicted in the film. No one in the Annex house would've been able to see the front of the Great Lakes building. See more »
You don't talk about this to anyone, ever.
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Director Katheryn Bigelow does a wonderful job of creating a great deal of tension. She does so by cutting from one tightly framed slightly wobbly shot to the next. Each character's face floods nearly the entire screen after each of these cuts. This makes the movie deeply personal and almost claustrophobic at times. The slight wobbles of the camera as it focuses on a face, adds to the uneasiness and unstable nature of the situation.
What I'm saying is the movie is expertly directed. That's evident early on and remains that way throughout. The issue holding this movie back from becoming one of serious best picture caliber is the writing. The story felt a bit underdeveloped.
The brief on-screen text explanation of the tension between the Detroit Police and the city's black residents could have served as a helpful addition to a setup that followed in the movie. I would have had no problem with that. But after the movie plays for 20 minutes or so, I realized that the text was the sole source of setup.
That's a classic case of telling instead of showing. Movies are a video medium. Use that. Don't casually display the text on screen. This choice may have been made for the sake of time, but I think the filmmakers would have been wise to focus more on the setup aspect. The text explanation felt like an inconsiderate means of storytelling.
After the opening text, the movie meanders for a while, eventually introducing the key characters and providing an appetizer of their personalities, foreshadowing their upcoming behavior.
Moments like these showcased strengths in the writing. The writing did not completely ruin the movie; it simply was not an Oscar-contending performance, like Bigelow's work.
The movie overall is well made, thanks in large part to Bigelow's deft direction, but it's not without flaws. One that I already mentioned is that I wanted the actual movie (not solely text) to better set the stage of this city that's on the verge of riot.
The second criticism ties into the first. Because of the lack of stage setting, this becomes a movie that expertly depicts the what, but fails to fully deliver on the why.
I see the riots. I see the emotional toll that police misconduct had on the abused citizens. I see the guilt that certain uniformed personnel felt for standing by and allowing the abuse to take place. What I didn't see enough of is why all this happened. I wanted a more personal detailing of what led up to the night shown in the movie. The actions are clear and powerful, but the motivations are vague and weak.
I came away from the movie wondering what message the filmmakers hoped to convey. While the title is Detroit, the story has a much narrower focus. Were the clear majority of Detroit City Police Officers upstanding in their behavior, with only a few tragic bad apples? Given the choice focus on only a few officers and a select group of citizens, should I assume that these officers' misconduct was the norm or the exception?
Perhaps it was not the filmmakers' intent to answer these questions. Maybe they only wanted to tell this specific story, without greater implications, which is fine. I just personally wanted to see a broader depiction of the city's atmosphere leading up to, during, and following the riots.
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