• This is fascinating, because from your description this sounds like although it doesn’t work as a portrayal of the Detroit riots (and like it needs a different title), it fits right into Bigelow’s recurrent theme: how those in authority exercise violence, or more broadly the power of life and death. She may have started with fetishizing those men, but she quickly moved into making that fetish the theme (Blue Steel doesn’t make a lot of sense, but in its way, it’s as batshit brilliant as Point Break) and has kept making those in authority more complex and morally challenged.
    Maybe she could get hold of that adaptation of White Jazz (which starts off with an Algiers Motel-like incident) Joe and Matt Carnahan wrote and film that next.

    • Babalugats

      A lot of people locally were complaining about the title when it was announced, and having seen the movie, I’m a little pissed off about it. It’s not really about Detroit, or the riots, or the lead up to the riots, or the aftermath of the riots. It’s using the city’s name because it sounds dangerous, and I think, to distance the audience from the issues. This movie could have just as easily been called America. It feels a bit like taking Taxi Driver and renaming New York, or changing Zodiac to San Francisco. And it’s not like we don’t already have a pretty dire image problems here. I guess I owe all those Chi-Raq haters an apology.

      • Ever since the trailer, I’ve been thinking that the title sucks. Any ideas for a better one? (Not only am I pissed off that The Battle of Algiers was taken, I also want to see Bigelow remake The Battle of Algiers.) Algiers Motel might work, making it more specific but also bringing in a film history reference. Night Three also has a ring to it.

        • The Algiers Motel Incident was the title of the book and the Wikipedia entry of this part of the riot.

          I get why it’s called something big and generic like Detroit, and not just because it’s catchy. It’s because the racist segregationist history of the region colors a lot of the city’s and region’s behavior to this day. But, Bigelow needed to show that more than through one character dropping his dreams and joining a church choir.

        • Babalugats

          Those would all be an improvement. How about Innocent. There’s a nice irony to it. The victims appeal to their innocence for protection, the murders are found innocent (spoilers for anyone who hasn’t been to America), and it draws out the themes of complicity. How far can we take that? Who can really claim innocence here?

          • ooo that’s good, it’s right up there in its complexity with Do the Right Thing.

        • The Narrator

          I noticed that it didn’t have a title until days from the launch of the first trailer, so I imagine there must have been a heavy scramble to not have marketing go out for Untitled Detroit Riots Film, and that was the result.

        • thesplitsaber

          I would have gone with ‘At The Algiers Motel’. The trailers and promotion would tell you that its clearly about an incident that happened during the Detroit riots.

          Of course from what im hearing it seems like it the movie should have just been about what happened at the motel and left out the prologue and epilogue acts.

    • Son of Griff

      It also sounds like a further reiteration of her unifying paradox, that of our addiction to kinetic presentation of violent spectacle in relation to our stated abhorrence of violence itself. This, I believe, reinforces Julius’ perspective, as this is an issue that specific audiences might relate to in the abstract, but it is not their life that is being objectified in the process of social edification.

    • thesplitsaber

      ‘Blue Steel doesn’t make a lot of sense, but in its way, it’s as batshit brilliant as Point Break’

      The first ten or so minutes of Blue Steel (the opening credits, the graduation scene, and the scene with Elizabeth Pena and JLC’s parents) are one of the best things Bigelowe has done. I almost feel like the only way she could that made was to graft it onto a ludicrous late 80s thriller.

      ‘Maybe she could get hold of that adaptation of White Jazz (which starts off with an Algiers Motel-like incident) Joe and Matt Carnahan wrote and film that next.’

      As long as she keeps Boal away from the screenplay. I feel like hes responsible for imo the sluggishness that seems to be creeping into her newer films.

  • Babalugats

    Yeah, I agree with everything written here.

    I think the movie suffers from a lack of focus. It’s not really about the riot, that’s just the setting for the Algiers murders. But the movie spends a lot of time establishing that setting, without having much to say about it. And then abruptly drops it. The Algiers section also seems disconnected from the larger riot, to a degree. We don’t get a sense of the sleep deprived police and out state military absorbing the chaos of the situation, so much as routine cruelties pushed further than typical. This is intentional I think, as a way to tie these murders to more recent cases, but it leaves the movie disjointed. And the final act is frankly awful. Despite a few strong moments, it’s cliched, hacky, lazily assembled, and completely loses the narrative thread of the film. When you start having pages of text superimposed over the credits, that’s a good indication of structural issues in the storytelling. I think the movie would have been wise to anchor itself more tightly to John Boyega’s character. Particularly during the trial scenes, I felt his perspective was conspicuously absent. This is one of those movies that should have either been 20 minutes shorter, or an hour longer.

    Having said all that, I think outside of a few false notes, the movie works very well on a moment to moment level. And there are a handful of excellent scenes, and excellent performances. And I think the film is politically sound, and avoids a lot of the traps that these sort of films often fall into. I liked, for instance, that the cops were all very young and not Colonel Sanders-esque caricatures. There’s an immediacy there that’s often lacking in Civil Rights movies. And I thought the film did a good job showing the institutional complacency that allows for bad actors to flourish. But then there’s not much I’m drawing out of it that I didn’t already have going into it. The A- cinemascore makes me question how much audiences are engaging with the film’s politics, but perhaps I’m being overly cynical.

    I was hoping for a lot more from this movie.

    • I think a lot of this movie’s audience is the choir; that is, the people largely going to see this is the white liberal audience who pat themselves on the back for understanding how the system works. At the theater I saw this at, they reported walkouts during nearly every screening, mostly by black audience members. Some of those walkouts stated they did not need to see such violence committed against black bodies for entertainment since that’s a fear they have to live with. But, I live in an ultra liberal lily white section of Seattle (what part isn’t, Julius?!) where people regularly go to BLM protests. On Twitter, I’ve seen black handles call the movie tortureporn.

      I dunno what to make of it. That third act trial is VERY rushed and rote and haphazardly handled, full of tropes and lazy writing. The homicide detective saying “we don’t shoot for looting” before calling Krauss a racist fuck and the army private character give audiences a couple of outs for which non-racist white person they identify with. Detroit is a deeply flawed film that has good intentions.

      • Babalugats

        There were walkouts in my theater, too. Although they all came in the last five minutes, which I thought was odd.

        The non-racist captain still puts Krauss back on the street, knowing he’s a murderer. And I felt like the army guy could have stopped it, had he really wanted to. But I agree that they feel like they’re being positioned as “not all whites.” There’s a balance to this stuff, where you don’t want racist characters to be so plainly cartoonishly evil that you let the audience off the hook, but you also don’t want to make the racism sympathetic. I don’t know what the answer is.

        • The walkout in my screening (which was a tiny crowd) happened when the cop first hits Greene in the stomach with the butt of his rifle, so early on in the Motel Incident.

    • I thought the movie overall was really well-made and has some amazing performance (Lee Algee is a total star in the making) but my main problem with it is that the first act is so heavily focused on the rioters but none of them ever get all that humanized. If the riots were gonna have such a major focus in the first act, it would have been nice to get to know the people involved in the rioting and lend some distinct personalities and names to people who are, in the final cut, rioting in the background.

      • Everything I’m hearing makes it sound like Bigelow took the middle hour, the sort of thing she really cares about and does better than almost anyone else in the business right now, and tacked on the first and third acts to make it Important. It’s a lot like Spielberg’s run from The Color Purple to Saving Private Ryan, where you can literally see which sequences he cares about and which he doesn’t.

        • thesplitsaber

          Even from the trailers it seemed obvoius they wanted to do a movie about what happened at the Algiers but felt like they couldnt just make such a small story. I think it still goes back to the title- this isnt a movie about DETROIT this is a movie about something that happened in Detroit.