For all the virtues that America has claimed to stand for over the years, there are periods from its history that many citizens would probably rather overlook, if not bury. But the truth, no matter how ugly, will find a way to make itself known, and openly acknowledging its existence is crucial if healing is ever going to occur. And it’s a message that’s just as relevant now as it was in our less enlightened past, a warning we should take to heart, the central theme of director Kathryn Bigelow’s intense new historical drama, “Detroit” (web site, trailer).
Set against the backdrop of the racially charged 1967 Detroit riots – an event that forever changed the face of what was once the nation’s fifth largest city – the film focuses on one particularly incendiary incident to come out of that troubled time, the police raid at the Algiers Motel. In pursuing what they believed to be a sniper shooting at a staging area for peace officers, a trio of White Detroit patrolmen (Will Poulter, Ben O’Toole, Jack Reynor), backed by state troopers, members of the National Guard and private security guard Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega), stormed the motel, brutally dragging guests from their rooms for interrogation. The raid led to the rounding up of nine guests, seven Black males and two White women.
The Detroit patrolmen, particularly Officer Krauss (Poulter), took the lead on the questioning, engaging in a terrifying game of intimidation aimed at seeking to force a confession from the “suspects,” who were repeatedly beaten, brutalized and subjected to phony (but convincing) death threats. As the incident played out, however, Krauss and his colleagues became so aggressively abusive that even the state police and the National Guard backed off. Dismukes, an African-American, looked on quietly, hoping to provide a stabilizing force on the situation, but, as a private security guard, there was only so much he could do. And, given the overly heated nature of the situation, things quickly got out of control.
The fallout from this situation changed the lives of all concerned forever. Dismukes, for example, who tried to help keep the peace that fateful night, himself became a suspect in the crimes that occurred at the hotel, a victim of trumped-up, after-the-fact scapegoat allegations. And, as for one of the “suspects,” up-and-coming soul singer Larry Cleveland (Algee Smith), who took a room at the motel simply to get off the streets and protect himself from violence after curfew, the incident left him emotionally distraught, so much so that he could no longer continue pursuing his career as lead vocalist for the Dramatics, one of Motown’s rising recording artists at the time.
But, for all the indignation the incident itself engendered, the greatest pain and anger came from the trials that ensued afterward. And that’s where the real ugliness of this event surfaced, creating a racial rift that was left to fester like an open wound for years to come. It’s no wonder Detroit was never the same city afterward.
While official accounts of the specific events at the Algiers Motel remain somewhat murky, the film has attempted to re-create them as authentically as possible based on the recollections and testimony of those who survived the incident. Names have been changed in some cases, but, according to the filmmakers, they have attempted to portray the events as faithfully as possible, to let the truth come out. That’s important if the hoped-for healing noted above is to ever gain traction.
“Detroit” poignantly illustrates what it means to tell the truth. But, perhaps even more importantly, it also shines a bright light on what it means to own up to the truth, no matter how infuriating and hideous it may be. It provides a hard-hitting indictment of a system gone terribly wrong and in need of fixing, one that’s still in disrepair 50 years after the fact, a message we’d be wise to heed today. It’s the kind of film that will make some viewers uneasily squirm in their seats but that will (and should) make most of us righteously outraged.
As for the picture itself, it’s relentlessly intense, never holding anything back (something director Bigelow is known for, as seen in previous works like “The Hurt Locker” (2009)), though it somehow manages to avoid falling into the trap of becoming gratuitously graphic. The film’s innate power, combined with its painfully heartfelt personal stories, make for a gripping piece of storytelling, particularly when it comes to a much-forgotten tragedy that today’s society should know about. Director Bigelow’s and screenwriter Mark Boal’s penchant for authenticity and thoroughness is highly commendable (if a bit overplayed at times), but better to be accurate and truthful than to gloss over something that needs to be told in all its revolting candor.
They say that those who don’t learn from the past are destined to repeat it. If this film had been released several years ago, maybe we would have avoided some of the heated exchanges that have occurred in that time. The residents of Baltimore and Ferguson, for example, may have been spared a great deal of strife and heartache if it had been available. But, now that it is available, we don’t have any excuse for the outbreak of future incidents like those that occurred in the Motor City five decades ago. Let’s hope we pay attention to the message of this film – and that it sinks in sufficiently.
‘Third Real’ Now on Social Media
I’m pleased to announce the launch of the Facebook page for my new book, Third Real: Conscious Creation Goes Back to the Movies, available by clicking here. The page features news and details about this upcoming new title, scheduled for release in print and ebook formats this fall. In addition, the page includes links to my web site’s blog posts, information on my writings for other web sites, details about my radio segments and announcements about upcoming media appearances. And, while you’re at it, feel free to check out the Facebook pages for my other books, Get the Picture?!: Conscious Creation Goes to the Movies and Consciously Created Cinema: The Movie Lover’s Guide to the Law of Attraction.
Watch for other social media outlets coming soon to keep up on all the latest!
The Best of Movies with Meaning – “Remember”
When does the cause of justice cross the line into the pursuit of vengeance? Even if the outcome in both instances turns out to be the same, doesn’t the intent leading to such a result make a difference? Those are thorny issues, to be sure, and they come center stage in the gripping suspense thriller, “Remember” (web site, trailer), now available on DVD, Blu-ray disc and video on demand.
Nursing home residents and fellow Auschwitz survivors Zev Guttman (Christopher Plummer) and Max Rosenbaum (Martin Landau) have a lot in common, including some rather clandestine plans. Even though Max’s advanced years have plundered him physically, he’s still as sharp as ever. Zev, meanwhile, is remarkably fit for his age, but the ravages of dementia have left him with severe memory loss issues, so devastating, in fact, that he can’t even remember the recent passage of his wife, Ruth. Given their conditions and histories, one might think Max and Zev would be content to live out their days in peace. But, unbeknownst to their families and friends, some serious scheming is afoot, plans with tremendous potential for dangerous manipulation, especially for someone in such a fragile state of mind as Zev.
Not long after Ruth’s shiva ends, Max calls his friend aside to remind him of the plan they had agreed to carry out once Zev’s beloved had passed. In a detailed set of written instructions – prepared so that Zev would never forget them – Max outlines their crusade to hunt down the blockführer responsible for the deaths of their families in the concentration camp.
Having worked with Simon Wiesenthal, the famed hunter of escaped Nazis, Max was aware that a number of fugitive war criminals evaded capture by adopting new identities (usually those of their Jewish victims) and quietly fleeing to America. For years, Max firmly supported Wiesenthal’s belief that such heinous offenders deserved to be put on trial in high-profile public proceedings in an aim to seek justice. But, after Wiesenthal’s death in 2005, and given the advancing age of the remaining fugitives (many of whom probably wouldn’t be physically able to undergo extradition and the rigors of a formal proceeding), Max has since come to believe in taking more direct action – summarily eradicating the guilty, given that they would almost assuredly befall a similar fate as a result of a trial verdict.
Max is certain that the guilty party, Otto Wallisch, took the name Rudy Kurlander at war’s end. But the problem with tracking down Kurlander is that, apparently, four individuals bear the same name. So who is the bona fide target? That’s where the detailed instructions come in. They’re so meticulously prepared that they allow for contingencies, giving Zev details about what to do if he should encounter the wrong individual while carrying out the plan.
One might question why someone with dementia would be tapped for a task like this. However, considering Zev’s history and his mental state, he makes the perfect choice, a sort of “Manchurian Candidate” with an apparent motivation for seeking revenge who can be prompted into carrying out his instructions without the “liability” of remembering what he did (or who put him up to it). And so, with his instructions in hand, Zev sets off on a journey spanning two countries in search of the man he’s been instructed to kill, even if he’s not sure of what he’s doing or why he’s doing it.
Even with what many would see as a “rightful” justification for their actions, can the vengeance Max and Zev seek be morally sanctioned? Most would likely say no, even under these circumstances. But, as becomes apparent in the film, viewers should not be too hasty to judge, especially when elements of the plan prove to be more brilliantly conceived than anyone could have possibly imagined. And therein lies the genius of this picture as one of the most adeptly told suspense thrillers to have graced the screen in quite a long time. As viewers will surely find, not everything is as it seems, with twists and turns that will shock, surprise and give one serious pause to think.
“Remember” is a knock-out from start to finish, with phenomenal performances by Plummer, Landau and a superb supporting cast, as well as a host of intriguing cinematic allusions. Despite the picture’s troubling subject matter, it’s hard to take one’s eyes off of this one, with its narrative holding a taut level of suspense right up until the very end, a hallmark of a true thriller. But most of all, there’s much to ponder beneath the surface of the film’s story line, leaving viewers with much to consider upon its conclusion. Don’t miss it.
A full review is available by clicking here.
Copyright © 2017, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.