Detroit is a 2017 American period crime drama film directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by Mark Boal. Based on the Algiers Motel incident during Detroit's 1967 12th Street Riot, the film's release commemorated the 50th anniversary of the event. The film stars John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Jacob Latimore, Jason Mitchell, Hannah Murray, Kaitlyn Dever, Jack Reynor, Ben O'Toole, Nathan Davis, Jr., Peyton Alex Smith, Malcolm David Kelley, Joseph David-Jones, with John Krasinski and Anthony Mackie.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Kathryn Bigelow|
|Written by||Mark Boal|
|Music by||James Newton Howard|
|Distributed by||Annapurna Pictures|
|Box office||$26 million|
Detroit premiered at the Fox Theatre, Detroit, on July 26, 2017, and began a limited theatrical release on August 4, 2017. The film received positive reviews from critics, with particular praise towards Bigelow's direction, Boal's screenplay and the performances of John Boyega, Will Poulter and Algee Smith, but was a box office failure, only grossing $26 million against its $34 million budget.
On Sunday, July 23, 1967, the Detroit Police Department stage a raid on an unlicensed club during a celebration for returning black veterans from the Vietnam War. While suspects are being arrested, a mob forms and starts throwing rocks at the officers before looting nearby stores and starting fires, beginning the 12th Street Riot. With state authorities, elected representatives, and even emergency services unable to maintain any semblance of order, Governor George W. Romney authorizes the Michigan Army National Guard and President Lyndon B. Johnson authorizes Army paratroopers to enter Detroit in order to provide assistance. On the second day of rioting, two cops pursue a fleeing looter. One of them, David Senak, kills the man with a shotgun against orders, but is allowed to remain on duty until his superiors can decide whether to file murder charges.
The Dramatics, a professional black R&B group, arrive in Detroit hoping to score a recording contract. Seconds before their scheduled performance at a music hall, the police shut down the venue and order them to leave the city. En route, their bus is attacked by rioters and the group subsequently splits up, with lead singer Larry Reed and his bodyguard Fred Temple renting a room at the local Algiers Motel for the night. They meet two white girls, Julie Ann Hysell and Karen Malloy, who introduce them to their friends Carl Cooper, Aubrey Pollard, Jr., Michael Clark and Lee Forsythe. Carl Cooper and another friend stage a prank using a starter pistol, upsetting Hysell and Malloy, who move to the room of Karl Greene, a Vietnam War veteran, while Reed and Temple return to their own room.
Melvin Dismukes, a private security guard, is assigned to protect a grocery store from looters and ingratiates himself with the Guardsmen. Cooper decides to fire several blanks from his pistol in the direction of the troops to frighten them, but they mistake it for a sniper attack and pinpoint it coming from the Algiers due to the pistol's muzzle flash. Led by Senak, the Michigan State Police, National Guard, and Detroit Police arrive at the motel to investigate. Entering the building, Senak kills Cooper when he tries to escape and plants a knife next to his body as he bleeds out and dies.
The police round up everyone in the hotel and line them against the wall, demanding to know who the sniper was. Despite not finding any weapon during a search of the room, Senak terrorizes and interrogates the occupants of the hotel. Dismukes arrives to try to help. Unwilling to get involved, most of the state police and National Guard leave without informing anyone of Senak’s abuse.
Senak orders several suspects to be moved to different rooms and subjected to mock executions in order to terrify the others into confessing. One officer, Ronald August, actually kills Pollard, as he did not understand that the executions were supposed to be faked. Hysell and Malloy are taken to an upstairs room, with Hysell's clothes being accidentally torn off. Disgusted, a Guardsman returns and manages to get them released from custody. Fearing arrest, Senak permits the remaining three men to leave, but only if they swear to keep silent. Greene and Reed agree, but Temple is shot twice in the chest by Paille after he persists in telling them that he sees a body.
As the riots die down, Dismukes, while working his other job in a factory, is arrested and charged with murder after Hysell identifies him as being present at the Algiers that night. His fellow officers are questioned as well and when everyone except Senak confesses, they are also charged. Reed, whose singing career has stalled due to the trauma he experienced, is summoned as a witness to testify. The judge ultimately refuses to accept any of the confessions as evidence, and without a solid case, the all-white jury acquits Dismukes and their co-defendants of all charges. Dismukes confronts three officers but finds himself powerless to get any justice for the victims.
The film ends by explaining what became of the participants: Dismukes moved to the suburbs to escape death threats and resumed work as a security guard for companies including Sears Roebuck. Although Senak, August, and Paille were found guilty of criminal charges, they never returned to active duty. Paille died on September 9, 2011, while Senak and August were arrested and remain in prison. Years later, a civil court ruled against one of the officers and he was ordered to pay a fine to Pollard's family of $5,000. Temple's family sued the city of Detroit for wrongful death but the city would not admit guilt. Cooper's starter pistol was never found. Hysell left Detroit, raised four children, and now works as a hairdresser. The Dramatics broke out in the 1970s with several hits and continue to perform to this day. Reed never rejoined the band, but still lives in Detroit and sings in a church choir. Dismukes passed away at the age of 75 on April 30, 2018. One year later, John Conyers died on October 27, 2019 at his home in Detroit, at the age of 90.
- John Boyega as Melvin Dismukes
- Will Poulter as David Senak
- Algee Smith as Larry Reed
- Jacob Latimore as Fred Temple
- Jason Mitchell as Carl Cooper
- Hannah Murray as Julie Ann Hysell
- Kaitlyn Dever as Karen Malloy
- Jack Reynor as Ronald August
- Ben O'Toole as Robert Paille
- Nathan Davis Jr as Aubrey Pollard, Jr.
- Peyton Alex Smith as Lee Forsythe
- Malcolm David Kelley as Michael Clark
- Joseph David-Jones as Morris
- John Krasinski as Norman Lippitt
- Anthony Mackie as Karl Greene
- Laz Alonso as John Conyers
- Ephraim Sykes as Jimmy
- Leon Thomas III as Darryl
- Gbenga Akinnagbe as Aubrey Pollard, Sr.
- Chris Chalk as Officer Frank
- Jeremy Strong as Attorney Lang
- Austin Hébert as Warrant Officer Jack Roberts
- Miguel Pimentel as Malcolm
- Khris Davis as Bling Pig Patron
- Kris Sidberry as Roberta Pollard
- Lizan Mitchell as Ma Pollard
- Zurin Villanueva as Martha
- Benz Veal as Nate Conyers
- Ato Blankson-Wood as Eddie Temple
- Tyler James Williams as Leon
- Karen Pittman as Mrs. Dismukes
- Joey Lawyer as National Guardsman Mike
- Will Bouvier as National Guardsman Matthew
- Zachary Eisenstat as State Policeman #1
- Jimi Stanton as State Policeman #2
- Bates Wilder as State Police Sergeant
- Eddie Troy as Police Officer Paul
- David Adam Flannery as Police Officer David
- Dennis Staroselsky as Detective Jones
- Darren Goldstein as Detective Tanchuck
- Chris Coy as Detective Thomas
- Glenn Fitzgerald as Homicide Detective Anderson
- Samira Wiley as Vanessa
- Timothy John Smith as Foreman Pete
- Alexander Cook as Head Juror
- Frank Wood as Judge Demascio
- Jennifer Ehle as Morgue Doctor
- Jeffrey L. Brown As Pastor
- Russell G. Jones As Choir Leader
On January 28, 2016, it was announced that Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal would reteam to make a film about the 1967 Detroit riots, with Bigelow directing from a script by Boal. Both would also produce the film, along with Annapurna Pictures' Megan Ellison and Matthew Budman. Game of Thrones actress Hannah Murray was cast in a "key role" in the film, although her character was then being kept under wraps. The film was scheduled to shoot in the summer of 2016, in order to be released in 2017 for the 50th anniversary of the riots. On June 21, 2016, John Boyega joined the cast. On August 3, 2016, Jack Reynor, Will Poulter, and Ben O'Toole were cast in lead roles. On August 4, 2016, Anthony Mackie joined the cast, and on August 5, 2016, Jacob Latimore and Algee Smith also joined. On August 8, 2016, Joseph David-Jones joined the cast, followed by Kaitlyn Dever on August 30, 2016. On September 9, 2016, Jason Mitchell joined the cast, and on September 13, 2016, John Krasinski was also added. In October 2016, Jeremy Strong, Chris Chalk, Austin Hébert, Ephraim Sykes, Laz Alonso, Nathan Davis Jr., Malcolm David Kelley, Peyton Alex Smith, and Leon Thomas III all joined the cast of the film.
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It was reported at the end of July 2016 that the film had commenced principal photography in Boston during the previous week. Scenes were filmed inside Dedham District Court, in Dorchester, Massachusetts and in Brockton, Massachusetts. In addition, the movie filmed in Detroit during October 2016. The elimination of Michigan's film incentives in 2015 affected the filming locations.
Detroit began a limited release in 10 markets on July 28, 2017, opening in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Washington D.C., Detroit, San Francisco, Houston, Atlanta, and Baltimore. Annapurna Pictures then released the film nationally, its first as a distributor, on August 4, 2017. Annapurna handled the film's North American distribution, while Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Entertainment One handled distribution for its international release. On November 3, 2017, it was announced the film would get a ten city, 20 screen re-release on December 1, 2017 in an effort to push its award campaign.
In North America, Detroit grossed $350,190 in its limited opening from 20 theaters (an average of $17,510), finishing 16th at the box office. The film then had its wide expansion alongside Kidnap and The Dark Tower, and was initially projected to gross $10–15 million from 3,007 theaters over the weekend. The film made $525,000 from Thursday previews, which was more than the $515,482 it made in its entire week of limited release. It then made $2.6 million on its first day, lowering weekend projections to $7.5 million. It went on to open to $7.1 million, finishing 8th at the box office; 40% of its opening weekend audience were African American. Deadline Hollywood wrote that the film could have done better had it been released in the fall during festivals and awards season. In its second weekend the film grossed $2.9 million, dropping 59.5% (above average for an adult drama) and finishing in 13th. In its third week of wide release the film was pulled from 1,579 theaters and grossed $850,000 (a drop of 70.9%).
Detroit received praise for its direction, screenplay, and acting, especially Boyega, Poulter, and Smith's performances. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 83% based on 277 reviews, and an average rating of 7.6/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Detroit delivers a gut-wrenching – and essential – dramatisation of a tragic chapter from America's past that draws distressing parallels to the present." On Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating to reviews, the film has a weighted average score of 77 out of 100, based on 49 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A−" on an A+ to F scale, and PostTrak reported film goers gave it an 86% overall positive score and a 63% "definite recommend".
Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 4 out of 4 stars and called it one of 2017's best, saying: "Journalist-screenwriter Mark Boal (Bigelow's collaborator on The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty) does a magnificent job of juggling the multiple storylines and creating fully authentic characters—some flawed, some basically decent, some evil." Writing for Rolling Stone, Peter Travers praised the cast and script, giving the film 3.5/4 stars and saying, "... Detroit is far more than a liberal howl against the escalating toxicity of racism in America. Bigelow, with the same immersive intensity that Christopher Nolan brings to Dunkirk, smacks us down in the middle of a brutal historical event so we can see it – and feel it – for ourselves."
Conversely, Alexander Nazaryan of Newsweek wrote "[Bigelow's] characters never come alive, moving through the film less as people than entries in a sociology textbook ... If Bigelow could get inside the minds of soldiers suffocated by post-traumatic stress disorder, as she did so capably in The Hurt Locker, she can get into the mind of anyone. In Zero Dark Thirty, she made even CIA interrogators likeable. The characters in Detroit, though, black and white, are as flat as the plains of the Upper Midwest."
Several critics noted the film's questionable take on a predominantly African American-based story. A.O. Scott in The New York Times wrote "It is curious that a movie set against a backdrop of black resistance and rebellion—however inchoate and self-destructive its expression may have been—should become a tale of black helplessness and passivity. The white men, the decent ones as much as the brutes, have the answers, the power, the agency." K. Austin Collins of The Ringer wrote "This movie isn't really about black people as people, nor history as a lived experience, but is instead invested in a dutiful, 'just the facts, ma'am' reenactment that pretends those other things are already a given. Boal, and Bigelow beside him, refuse to speculate about — or imagine — the rest."
The New Yorker's Richard Brody called the film "a moral failure", saying: "[Bigelow's] intentions come through clearly: to depict an incident—and a climate—of racism, to show that the cruelty of these deeds was multiplied by their ultimate impunity, and to suggest that, in the intervening half-century since the events depicted in the film took place, little has changed. Movies aren’t made with intentions, though; they’re made with people and with equipment, and what Bigelow has her actors do for the benefit of the camera is repellent to imagine."
|Award||Date of ceremony||Category||Recipient(s)||Result||Ref.|
|Black Reel Awards||February 22, 2018||Outstanding Film||Detroit||Nominated|
|Outstanding Actor, Motion Picture||Algee Smith||Nominated|
|Outstanding Ensemble||Victoria Thomas||Nominated|
|Outstanding Score||James Newton Howard||Nominated|
|Motion Picture Sound Editors||February 18, 2018||Best Sound Editing: Dialogue and ADR in a Feature Film||Paul N. J. Ottosson, Laura Graham, Daniel Saxlid, Robert Troy||Nominated|
|NAACP Image Awards||January 15, 2018||Outstanding Motion Picture||Detroit||Nominated|
|Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture||Algee Smith||Nominated|
|Outstanding Writing in a Motion Picture||Mark Boal||Nominated|
|Outstanding Independent Motion Picture||Detroit||Won|
According to Melvin Dismukes, who is depicted prominently in the film, Detroit "is 99.5% accurate as to what happened at the Algiers and in the city at the time." However, the Los Angeles Times wrote that "Bigelow does say there are moments of fiction, and Boal notes instances of 'pure screenwriting.' Some facts are contested within accounts; others were changed for the screen" and then raised the question "Does a disclaimer at the end sufficiently cover fictional manipulations in an ostensibly true story?" Variety stated that Bigelow and Boal "changed names [of characters] so as to enjoy other creative liberties in the storytelling." One such subject whose name was dropped in favor of a fictional one is lawyer Norman Lippitt (played in the film by actor John Krasinski under the name Auerbach). In the movie, David Sanek (played by Will Poulter) is renamed Philip Krauss while Ronald August (played by Jack Reynor) and Robert Paille (played by Ben O'Toole) have been respectively renamed Demens and Flynn (first names not given).
In response to the historical criticism, Boal said, "I employed poetic license, under a self-imposed rule to never stray from what I understood to be the underlying truth of a scene or an event. This script is built on a sturdy base of journalism and history, but it is not the same as journalism or history, nor does it aspire to be. As a screenwriter, I take the responsibility of being the creator of a tale, of transforming these raw materials into a drama."
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- Official website
- Detroit on IMDb
- Detroit at AllMovie
- Detroit at Box Office Mojo
- Detroit at Metacritic
- Detroit at Rotten Tomatoes