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, Jason Mitchell, John Krasinski and Anthony Mackie.
Detroit premiered at the Fox Theatre in the titular city on July 25, 2017, and began a limited theatrical release on July 28, 2017, before opening wide on August 4, 2017. The film received generally favorable reviews from critics, with praise for Bigelow’s direction, Boal’s script and the performances of Poulter and Smith.
On July 23, 1967, the Detroit police stage a raid on an unlicensed club during a celebration for returning black veterans. While arresting suspects, a mob forms and starts throwing rocks at the officers before looting nearby stores and starting fires, beginning the 12th Street Riot. With civil authorities, elected representatives, and even emergency services unable to maintain any semblance of order, Governor George W. Romney authorizes the Michigan National Guard and 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, Philip Krauss, mortally wounds the man with a shotgun against orders, but is allowed to remain on active 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 perfomance at a music hall, the police shut down the venue and order them to leave the city. Enroute, their bus is attacked by rioters and the group subsequently splits up, with lead singer Larry Reed and his friend Fred Temple renting a room at the local Algiers Motel for the night. They meet two white girls, Julie Ann and Karen, who introduce them to their friends Carl Cooper and Aubrey Pollard. Carl and another friend stage a prank using a starter pistol, upsetting Julie and Karen, who move to the room of Greene, a Vietnam War veteran, while Larry and Fred 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. Carl 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 open fire on the Algiers. A detachment of police arrive, led by Krauss, who guns down Carl when he tries to escape and plants a knife next to his body as he bleeds out and dies.
Accompanied by Dismukes and some Guardsmen, the police round up everyone in the hotel and line them against the wall, demanding to know who the shooter was. Despite Dismukes failing to find any weapon during a search of the room, Krauss orders several suspects to be moved to different rooms and subjected to mock executions as part of a “game” to terrify the others into confessing. Unwilling to get involved, most of the Guardsmen and soldiers leave without informing anyone of Krauss’s abuse.
Julie and Karen are taken to an upstairs room when they begin screaming, and Julie’s clothes are torn off. Disgusted, Dismukes and a Guardsman manage to get them released from custody. Aubrey is accidentally shot dead during his interrogation by one of the remaining Guardsman, and Krauss, fearing arrest, permits the remaining suspects to leave, but only if they swear to keep silent. Greene and Larry agree, but Fred is killed when he refuses.
As the riots die down, Dismukes, while working his other job in a factory, is arrested and charged with murder after Julie identifies him as being present at the Algiers that night. Krauss and his fellow officers are questioned as well, and when everyone except Krauss confesses, they are also charged. Larry, 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, Krauss, and their co-defendents of all charges. Dismukes confronts Krauss with the truth, 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, Krauss and his men remained on the force but never returned to active duty, Julie rebuilt her life and started a family, and Larry became a choir singer and still lives in Detroit to the present day.
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Written by Mark Boal
Music by James Newton Howard
Cinematography Barry Ackroyd
Edited by William Goldenberg
First Light Productions
Annapurna Pictures (United States)
Entertainment One (International)
July 25, 2017 (Fox Theatre)
July 28, 2017 (United States)
Country United States
Budget $34 million
Box office $13.4 million