With her seminal ’80s and ’90s flicks, Near Dark and Point Break, Kathryn Bigelow established herself as a master both of visual style and taut, utterly compelling storytelling. However, more recently, with Academy Award-winning war films The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, she’s found her subjects in the real world, and become one of Hollywood’s most consistently relevant directors.
For her latest, the hugely anticipated Detroit, she teams up once again with screenwriter Mark Boal and takes us to a different kind of war zone, the Detroit race riots of 1967. Here, she tells the true story of one of the most terrifying moments during that now almost-forgotten period of civil unrest.
Exactly 50 years ago, the rust-belt city was in the midst of almost unprecedentedly bloody race riots, which began when the police raided an unlicensed bar. During the ensuing confrontation, which lasted a full five days, 43 people were killed and more than 1,000 injured; 2,000 buildings were destroyed, and more than 7,200 people arrested. It was one of the deadliest race riots in American history.
In the middle of this tragic chaos, three black men were killed and nine other people severely beaten by police at the Algiers Motel, after reports of gunshots in the area. Later, police and National Guard officers were tried and, controversially, acquitted of the killings. However, what actually happened that night at the Algiers remains both a mystery and a touchstone issue – emblematic, many say, of the racism that infected the city’s police department.
“It’s a very timely tale that deals with systemic racism in a way I think is relevant to contemporary audiences,” says Boal of his screenplay, which is the result of painstaking research into the events at the motel that night, and the background to the riots.
The cast includes a brace of hot Brit talent in Will Poulter (The Revenant) and John Boyega (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), who plays a young Detroit security guard thrown into the middle of the chaos, as well as the stellar Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker) and Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton).
No director can deliver visceral, puts-you-in-the-moment cinema quite like Bigelow, and Detroit promises to be a typically immersive experience. However, as well as being a compelling recreation of the night a city was almost torn apart, this is a gripping true-crime mystery. Half a century after the events of 25 July 1967, the question remains: what happened at the motel? Oscar buzz is already growing, and with a subject that is, sadly, still as much a part of the headlines now as it was five decades ago, Detroit is top of this year’s must-see list.Find your cinema and book tickets