In their third outing together, Mark Boal and Kathryn Bigelow have once again crafted an absolutely harrowing piece of filmmaking, bringing real life tragedy to the screen in a deeply unsettling manner. Here, the focus is on the 1967 riots in Detroit, with the microscope specifically pointed at the Algiers Motel incident that left three people dead at the hands of violent, racist police officers who believed members of the group to have been taking shots at a nearby police patrol.
Bigelow shoots everything at such terrifyingly close range that reprieve is nowhere to be found. The most charitable way to characterize it is unsettling, with any chance to hide from the violence and brutality denied swiftly and uncomfortably. The cameras, to use an awful but fitting phrase, stay at point blank distance the entire time and never flinch. It is jarring but supremely effective as a narrative tool, making the viewer feel just as scared and trapped as the group in the motel and giving deep, reflective insight into the lives of a people still persecuted for their skin color even today.
The acting is absolutely fantastic throughout, with a number of truly riveting performances across the spectrum. John Boyega, Will Poulter, Anthony Mackie, Hannah Murray, Kaitlyn Dever, Algee Smith and more all bring dynamic turns, adding to the gritty, disturbing presentation. The emotion is real and the tension is palpable, and the acting is up to the task, complimenting the writing and direction admirably.
By the time the film moves into its late stages, the parallels to current times are clearly drawn. The trial of the cops in question goes as one would expect if you don’t already know the history, and it’s frustrating to say the least. What catharsis the film does offer is sparing, refusing to gloss over the effects the incident had on those involved. This is an important film that may not be easy to sit through, but is essential in understanding how where we came from has shaped where we are today.