A few years ago, I spent a lot of time watching the Science Channel, and they frequently ran programs that investigated airplane crashes to figure out what caused them. There was never just one reason. The disaster was always triggered by a series of failures that compounded things into a bad day for those involved. That’s Detroit.
In July of 1967, racial tension was high all across the country. Detroit, in particular, had a large, densely-packed African-American population and a predominantly white police force that didn’t have a high opinion of the black community. One night, things came to a head when the police raided a private club and found their actions much more visible to the general public than they would have liked. A crowd gathered, people got angry, and a riot broke out. Buildings were trashed, looted, and burned, and the National Guard was called in to try to keep order.
At the Algiers Motel, things were calm until a jeep full of National Guardsmen pulled up nearby. One of the morons in the hotel had a starter pistol and thought it would be fun to fool the soldiers into thinking they were under fire. They didn’t find it funny and stormed into the hotel with a few local police officers. One of the cops, Krauss (Will Poulter), soon took charge and made it clear that they weren’t going to leave until the sniper had been found or everyone was dead. Krauss wasn’t the most level-headed or racially sensitive guy, and things didn’t go so well for anyone.
The movie is mostly well done, but it’s not a particularly enjoyable experience. The subject matter is bleak for most of its runtime, and that runtime is quite a bit longer than it needs to be. The meat of the film is mostly well paced, but the lead-in and follow-up both seem to go on a bit too long.
Perhaps the most baffling thing about the film is John Boyega’s role as a security guard at a liquor store that is across the street from where the Guardsmen pulled up and found themselves under “fire”. Boyega is the top-billed actor in the film, and we spend a substantial amount of time following his character, except that he’s completely unnecessary and totally incidental to the plot in every way. He’s just a spectator, and all of the time spent following him is a complete waste of the audience’s time. Yes, the film is based on a true story, and yes, the character he was playing was there when it happened, but there is no reason whatsoever to focus on that character.
On the other hand, the acting is good, and the film consistently achieves its goal of stirring emotion. It’s certainly not a bad movie, but it could have been so much better if it had been tighter and stayed more focused on the important aspects of the story.