A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Detroit is an outstanding drama about the 1967 Detroit riots, regarded as some of the deadliest riots in American history. It's intense, with very realistic violence, including guns and shooting, bloody wounds/pools of blood, and dead bodies. Police beat civilians with gun butts, as well as grab and choke them. People smash windows and start fires, and at one point, a cop rips off a woman's dress, leading to a brief shot of full-frontal nudity. Language is strong, with uses of "f--k," "motherf----r," the "N" word, and more. Characters kiss, and prostitutes/pimps are mentioned. There's lots of cigarette smoking, and characters drink at parties; drugs are shown briefly. Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty) lives up to her own stellar reputation here, boldly addressing the very topical theme of race in America. The Force Awakens' John Boyega co-stars, but this isn't an appropriate pick for younger Star Wars fans.
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What's the story?
In DETROIT, it's 1967 and the police raid an illegal Detroit bar, known as a "blind pig." The incident attracts a crowd, and violence fueled by racial tension quickly escalates. Fed-up African-Americans begin looting and burning buildings in their neighborhoods. A trio of cops patrols the streets, and Krauss (Will Poulter) shoots a looter in the back. Meanwhile, security guard Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega) tries to help defuse a situation between a neighborhood man and the National Guard, and singer Larry Reed (Algee Smith) prepares for his big chance to go onstage with his band, The Dramatics. They all wind up at the nearby Algiers Motel, where a man has raised an alarm by firing a starter pistol out the window. Krauss and his cops start questioning everyone there -- black men and two white women -- and the questioning turns to violence. Whoever gets out alive will find their lives forever changed.
Is it any good?
After two masterpieces set in the Middle East, Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow returns to the United States for a third. This is a harrowing, shameful, illuminating piece of American history. As with The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, Detroit was written by Mark Boal, largely based on real-life testimonials but also with some fictional fill-ins. Yet it's Bigelow who makes it work, both as drama and as art. Rising through the ranks with B-level genre films (like Point Break), she, more than any other living director, understands how violence is both alluring and repellent. And she's able to show both at once, in shades of gray. In this film, violent threats and showmanship are as important as actual acts.
Detroit starts without fanfare at the "blind pig" raid and proceeds chronologically, inexorably, through the events of 1967. Bigelow effortlessly establishes a sense of time and place, as well as a sense of the scale of the event as a whole, which is never an easy feat. But unlike many of her male cohorts, Bigelow doesn't come at the story through white male eyes; she brilliantly illustrates the utter frustration of racism, even more than its rage. Meanwhile, the characters find depth and poignancy; Anthony Mackie is powerful in just a few scenes, while Star Wars star Boyega serves as a kind of angelic presence, hovering near the events and yearning for peace. When the final results come down, any human being with a heart and soul will be angered by injustice -- and, even so, driven to kindness.
Talk to your kids about ...
How does the movie deal with racism/issues related to race? Are lessons learned? If so, how would you describe them? The movie is set in 1967, but does its subject matter still feel relevant?
Does the movie make you want to learn more about this time in history? How would you go about that?
How does the movie compare to director Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty? What do her movies have in common? How are they different?
- In theaters: August 4, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: December 12, 2017
- Cast: John Boyega, Anthony Mackie, Algee Smith, Will Poulter
- Director: Kathryn Bigelow
- Studio: Annapurna Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: History
- Run time: 143 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong violence and pervasive language
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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