I sincerely hope that there's a five-hour cut of Kathryn Bigelow's Detroit somewhere, but the version that we have right now -- a messy, troubling beast clocking in at around 150 minutes -- is riveting in its own way. Again working with screenwriter Mark Boal, Bigelow has crafted a portrait of the 1967 Detroit uprising that manages to be both history lesson and incendiary device, even if it sometimes sputters.
Most of Detroit centers on the events at the Algiers Motel, the evocatively named but somewhat rudimentary complex that we first see as aspiring R&B singer Larry Cleveland (Algee Smith) and his young friend Fred Simple (Jacob Latimore) duck inside to get away from the violence in the streets. Any sense of safety is short-lived, however, after the police and the National Guard respond to what they think are gunshots fired at them from the motel. They blast their way in, looking for the shooters.
What ensues is close to a relentless, extended torture sequence, as the officers -- led by a wild-eyed cop called Krauss -- force these men and women against a wall and take turns taking suspects into another room and, supposedly in an attempt to get the others to talk, pretend to kill them, one by one. Bigelow allows the sequence to go on and on and on, for what may well be 90 minutes of raw, stomach-gnawing tension. The length and intensity of this sequence, and the structural chaos it creates for the film, allow us to feel some of the trauma of the event. The fragmented, distracted quality of later scenes suggests that the film is suffering from its own form of shell-shock.