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Will Poulter, Anthony Mackie

“DETROIT”  My rating: B

125 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Kathryn Bigelow doesn’t pull many punches.

In the fact-based “Detroit,” the Oscar-winning filmmaker explores a deadly 50-year-old incident from America’s racial past, an incident so distressing that in comparison it makes her “Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty” seem like lighthearted matinee fodder.

That the film is powerful is beyond dispute. It’s so powerful, so excruciating that one must question whether audiences are willing to take it on.

Bigelow’s subject is the notorious Algiers Motel incident. In July 1967, during rioting (some have called it a rebellion) in Detroit’s black neighborhoods, three young men were killed — murdered by most accounts — when confronted by police at the aforesaid motel.

Employing a docudrama approach of the sort pioneered by Paul Greengrass (“Bloody Sunday,” “United 93”), “Detroit” tells its tale without much explanation. After an animated opening sequence exploring the sources of America’s racial crisis in the late 1960s, the film throws us into the action.

It begins when Detroit police raid an illegal after-hours club, and a crowd gathers. Bricks are thrown. Within hours a full-fledged uprising/riot is underway.

The screenplay by Mark Boal (“Zero Dark Thirty”) introduces a half dozen characters on both sides of the conflict.

When their performance at a big soul revue is canceled because of the rioting, Larry Reed (Algee Smith) and Fred Temple (Jacob Latimore), members of the singing group the Dramatics (the group eventually would be signed by Motown Records), attempt to get home. They decide to hole up where a score of others have taken shelter, in the Algiers’ annex, a once-impressive house now divided up into individual rental rooms.

On the other side of the equation is a white cop, Krauss (Will Poulter), who claims to understand the plight of the urban underclass but who is clearly trigger-happy, weary from days of dealing with arson and looting. Earlier that day he had shot and killed a fleeing looter.

An Algiers tenant (Jason Mitchell) taunts approaching police and National Guard troops by firing a harmless starter pistol, unleashing a series of horrific events. Detroit cops, state police officers and guardsmen storm into the house, rounding up the tenants. Employing psychological terror and beatings, Krauss and company demand to know the whereabouts of the “sniper.” (more…)

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