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“Detroit” is the best film of 2017 so far

Last week was probably the best week of the year for me yet, screening wise. Not only did I lay eyes on Dunkirk at last, but I also got a chance to see Kathryn Bigelow’s latest film. That film, in case you’re not aware, is Detroit and it quickly stood up next to Dunkirk as the class of 2017. In fact, I think Bigelow’s movie is slightly better, even. With the embargo having lifted yesterday in the late afternoon, I can now begin to rave about it. And believe me, it deserves to be raved about. Detroit is something special. Bigelow and Mark Boal have done it again.

This film is a docudrama about the 1967 Detroit Rebellion, also known as the 12th Street Riots. A central incident depicted is a police raid on the Algiers Motel. Known as the Algiers Motel incident, that fateful July 25th night in 1967 resulted in the deaths of three black men as well as the brutal beatings of nine other people, consisting of seven black men and two white women. We follow a number of characters before, during, and after the incident, namely security guard Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega), Police Officers Krauss (Will Poulter), Demens (Jack Reynor), and Flynn (Ben O’Toole), as well as prostitutes Karen (Kaitlyn Dever) and Julie (Hannah Murray). There’s also members of a Motown group called the Dramatics, including front man Larry Reed (Algee Smith). As we build up to that infamous yet largely unknown act of Police terrorism, the characters all come together, with devastating consequences. Bigelow directs a script from Boal once again, with return collaborations from cinematographer Barry Ackroyd and editor William Goldenberg as well. The score is by James Newton Howard. Other supporting players here include Las Alonzo, Nathan Davis Jr., Malcolm David Kelley, John Krasinski, Jacob Latimore, Anthony Mackie, Jason Mitchell, Jeremy Strong, and many more. Everyone is doing very strong work, to say the least.

There’s a case to be made that this is Bigelow’s best work to date. The movie is riveting and deeply upsetting. It’s almost unrelenting in its intensity. In particular, the extended hotel sequence in the middle of the film is absolute perfection. A combination horror movie and thriller in how chilling it is, the hair will stand up on the back of your neck. In terms of direction, this is Bigelow’s finest hour. While Boal’s screenplay perhaps is a tick less brilliant than Zero Dark Thirty or The Hurt Locker, this is in many ways their most challenging work yet. This time around, it’s the filmmaking that shines, more than the writing or the acting, which is across the board solid. If there’s a standout, it’s Poulter, who is horrifyingly evil yet incredibly compelling.

Oscar should definitely come calling for Detroit. With a strong campaign (as well as a targeted one with the ensemble), a half dozen nominations could be possible at the end of the year. Without question, across the board hopes will be put forth, with campaigns in Best Picture, Best Director (for Bigelow), Best Supporting Actor (for Poulter), Best Original Screenplay (for Boal), Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Original Score, and Best Original Song. Assuming it’s not somehow forgotten in a few months, look for Picture, Bigelow in Director, Boal in Original Screenplay, Cinematography, and Film Editing to be very much in play. Time will tell how this one does, but there’s reason to be bullish about its chances.

Next month, Detroit will bring a little of the winter awards season to August. I’ll have more on the flick then, but just know that it’s an absolute must see. If you’ve enjoyed Bigelow and Boal’s two previous collaborations, suffice to say, you’ll be enthralled by this one as well. If socially conscious cinema is your passion, you’ll be just as revved up by this as anything in some time. It will likely stand the test of the year and remain among 2017’s finest offerings. For me, right at this moment, nothing has been better. Sit tight for another article on the film soon, but this is one to hotly anticipate…

Stay tuned for more on Detroit in a couple of weeks, right around its August 4th release date!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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