The beginning of Kathryn Bigelow's Detroit plays somewhat like the first acts of her recent films The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. We're in a war zone, but it's Detroit, not Baghdad. Looting and destruction are inflicted by some, not all, and there are good cops and monstrous cops, and it's not easy to tell what's what.
We meet Larry Reed (Algee Smith) and his R&B group the Dramatics at the Fox Theater. The Dramatics are well-rehearsed and this could be their big break, but just as they're about to go onstage, the announcement comes that the show has been canceled due to rioting. Larry heads to his $11 room at the Algiers Motel. One thing leads to another, and the Detroit police come to believe they're under attack by the Algiers guests.
Thus sets off the so-called "Algiers incident" involving the guests and the Detroit police, led by brutal officer Krause (Will Poulter). What happens there is harrowing, and will leave you feeling emotionally drained. Perhaps the filmmakers thought it was too harrowing because the Algiers incident comes to an abrupt end and the last 30 minutes of the film deal with the aftermath.
In a sudden, goofy turn, John Krasinski appears as the defense attorney for Krause and two other officers, and the whole thing feels more like an extended epilogue than a resolution. Despite a third act that doesn't really fit with the first two, there's a lot to like about Detroit, notably very strong performances by Smith and Poulter. R MITCHELL MILLER.
Rated R. Detroit plays at Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, Clackamas, Cinema 21, Division, Living Room Theaters, St. Johns Twin Cinema & Pub, Tigard, Vancouver