Review: Detroit

Oscar winning director Kathryn Bigelow’s newest picture, or should I dub it a docudrama, is a hard-hitting take on the events that transpired in the Motor City in 1967. Detroit follows the individuals and actions that lead to the horrible shootout that took place at the Algiers Motel, where the police shot and killed three African-American boys suspected of firing shots at National Guardsman and the aftermath of their actions.

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Image by Annapurna Pictures

Detroit is a culmination of three subplots carried by a security guard named Melvin Dismukes, a Detroit police officer named Krauss and an aspiring Motown lead singer named Larry and his friend Fred. Each of them are eventually drawn to the Algiers where bedlam, fear and senseless violence take place after the police arrive and take drastic and dangerous steps to determine who fired the suspected gun.

Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal have worked together to deliver two of the hardest hitting dramas echoing current cultural and societal issues. Detroit is no exception to the standard as it definitely packs an impact upon viewing it, but unlike The Hurt Locker and unlike Zero Dark Thirty, I found Detroit a mess.

I couldn’t get past the constant shaky Steadicam work. The cinematography of Barry Ackroyd was very unsteady to watch; I get that Bigelow wanted to go for authenticity and I respect for that but the camerawork was so over the top, I couldn’t find a way to settle.

I also found flaws in how this was written. Mark Boal is talented but I can’t help but think that he may have overdone it; especially after the film concluded and Bigelow wrote in a statement stating that a lot of the information about the events of this movie was incomplete. I understand how filmmakers can take certain liberties to enhance the appeal of a film, especially if they are based on true events but it just raises the questions how much of this film was influenced by the modern day news stories about black men killed by police for little to no reason at all.

Also I found that the script left some things unresolved by some of their characters like Dismukes, Krauss, Greene and whoever else was involved in this ordeal and managed to survive; this movie, felt incomplete primarily because of how it was written.

Bigelow made her intentions clear in Detroit and I can definitely see why she was drawn to make this movie; the problems relating to race and police violence are just as relevant and important today as they were back then and the system has not made a difference. The problem is that this film has problems and those problems dragged this film down; the writing muddles the impact and the camerawork hinders the editing of William Goldenberg and Harry Yoon, which felt very sloppy transitioning between Dismukes, Krauss, Larry and the guests at the hotel for a while.

What I can’t say is that the cast and the acting were not a problem. John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Jacob Latimore, Anthony Mackie, Nathan Davis Jr., Hannah Murray, Kaitlyn Dever and Jason Mitchell all do a fine job with their roles.

James Newton Howard’s music was fine, Jeremy Hindle’s production design was bold, the set decoration by Dennis Colvin and Kathy Lucas was sharp, the art direction by Greg Barry and Jim Wallis was good, the make-up and sound effects was top notch and the costume design by Francine Jamison-Tanchuck was very precise.

There were times where I tried to force myself to pay attention to this movie and that has never happened to me before with a Kathryn Bigelow movie. Detroit is an impactful film, it is, and it is worth seeing because it has relevance but it also has problems that are difficult to ignore and ultimately, it is disappointing.

Movie of the Week: Detroit

The tandem of Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal have delivered compelling cinema over the past few years. The Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker was an intense examination of how war can be addictive to man. Zero Dark Thirty was a relentless depiction on the manhunt for the world’s most infamous terrorist and now the two are ready to take audiences back in time to one of the most recent darkest chapters in American history. In 1967, one of America’s most prominent cities was ready to explode due to racial tensions and hostilities toward the police and the incidents which occurred at the Algiers Motel, may as well lit the fuse on those tensions. It’s time to go to Detroit.

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Screenwriter: Mark Boal

Starring: John Boyega, Will Poulter, Jason Mitchell, Jack Reynor, Anthony Mackie, Algee Smith, Jacob Lattimore, John Krasinski, Kaitlyn Dever and Hannah Murray.

What am I expecting to see?: From what I’ve heard going in, this movie is very polarizing; either people will enjoy it or people will see it as a mess, which is strange considering Bigelow and Boal crafted it. The subject itself is tantalizing considering how societally relevant it seems but even the great ones can make mistakes. I’m looking forward to being enlighted, educated and entertained by Detroit considering how much I enjoyed Bigelow’s last two features but I’m bracing myself for the worst all the same.

Review: Dunkirk

The man who gave audiences Memento, The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, The Prestige and Interstellar returns to take audiences back in time to a small, but not insignificant chapter in the history of World War II.

Nazi Germany has enveloped 400,000 French and British soldiers to the beaches of Dunkirk and the possibility of escape is practically perilous in every direction. Pinned to just one location, the enemy takes their time picking off their forces and destroying whatever hope of escape in their wake. Land, sea and air, the Allied Forces are in a bind, and the British government at the order of Prime Minister Churchill has little alternative but to requisition and commandeer civilian water craft to travel across the channel and bring their boys home.

Christopher Nolan’s take on these accounts is segmented into three perspectives on this account of history. The Mole follows a young French and British soldier navigating the beaches trying to find someway back home; The Sea features a father and son and a friend in their sea vessel crossing the channel upon hearing the order to rescue as many men as they can; The Air follows two fighter pilots soaring through the skies above the madness, shooting down German fighter planes bent on sinking anything that floats. These three perspectives all tie together to illustrate the power of the human instinct of survival. These three perspectives are the crux of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk.

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Image by Warner Bros. and Syncopy

Nolan told this story in three parts; I will describe this movie in three words: elegant, explosive and unyielding.

Going into this movie, I was concerned that Nolan’s take on this war story would be too clean and that might hinder its appeal as a war movie when compared to a classic war dramas such as Saving Private Ryan, The Hurt Locker or last year’s Oscar winning Hacksaw Ridge because those movies truly captured the essences of war; the gore, the graphic imagery, the bloodshed, the need to illustrate that war is hell upon seeing it unfold all around the characters for the audiences to witness themselves. Dunkirk was my boom or bust movie of the year and after seeing it, in IMAX which is the way it was intended to be seen, this movie went BOOM! A loud, resonating BOOM upon the senses that did not let up in the slightest!

My concerns going into this movie? Decimated as I watched it unfold before my eyes! Just because Nolan didn’t go excessive on bloodshed, doesn’t mean he hindered this movie; you don’t need blood or grandiose practical effects to illustrate the horrors of war! Every time a bullet fired, I jumped. Every time I saw a bomb go off or a missile or a torpedo down a ship, I was jolted. Every time a dogfight happened in the sky, I held my breath! Every time the situation became more and more dire in these three arcs, the tension just kept building and building and the suspense was as remorseless like the wind and rain in a hurricane! Nolan just brought his strengths as a filmmaker and storyteller to depict a “back against the wall” situation where individuals had to use whatever resources they could to see tomorrow and the need for bodily harm or horror was not necessary in the slightest to accomplish that.

What’s more impressive about Dunkirk is that the enemy’s presence is felt rather than seen. From the first frame, audiences see the little fliers floating from the sky onto the soldiers saying “We surround you!” you don’t see the enemy, but the presence of danger is felt every second and the tension of this film feeds off that tension for strength.

Nolan intended for Dunkirk to be seen as a story of survival and he wrote and executed this core aspect of the picture with extraordinary distinction! The focus of Dunkirk was never about winning, it was about bringing these soldiers home from extreme danger and knowing that in surviving, they were victorious! I had my doubts whether or not he could pull this off but with this powerful script, impeccable execution, the stunning cinematography of Hoyte van Hoytema, the awesome music of Hans Zimmer giving this picture atmosphere where dialogue is scarce, the sound effects, Lee Smith’s editing which came together beautifully as the film went on, Nathan Crowley’s production design, Dunkirk is an outstanding achievement in filmmaking and should become the crown jewel in Christopher Nolan’s body of work so far.

This movie isn’t so much about the actors but what the actors do in the film, in these roles. The collection of Fionn Whitehead, Damien Bonnard, Aneurin Barnard, Barry Keoghan, Mark Rylance, Tom Glynn-Carney, Tom Hardy, Jack Lowden, Kenneth Branagh, James D’Arcy, Cillian Murphy and Harry Styles all do a solid job with the parts they have been given, but the true star of the show is the suspense and the tension that fills up the screen when all of the technical aspects behind the camera come together.

Dunkirk is elegant is how it is shown and heard on screen but the subject matter is brimming with explosive technical execution, resulting in an unyielding cinematic experience that should not be missed! It is the most phenomenal experience I have had this year at the movies!

Review: American Sniper

Every year, I always try to see every movie that could possibly be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar before the nominations are announced and usually I see every nominated film except one. Last year, it was Philomena, a couple of years ago it was Beasts of the Southern Wild and Amour, a few years before that it was An Education and now this year it is American Sniper.

Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood and screenwriter Jason Hall chronicle the life and career of the most lethal sniper in American history. Academy Award nominee Bradley Cooper is Chris Kyle, a native Texan who hears the call to serve his country and enlist in the Navy where he begins his career as a sniper who will be credited with 160 confirmed kills out of 255 probables in the line of duty during his four tours of duty in Iraq.

Bradley Cooper kills as Chris Kyle in American Sniper

What American Sniper is at its core is a chronicle about a man who is difficult to decipher. Cooper’s Kyle is a vintage Texan, turned cowboy turned Navy Seal, but it goes deeper than that. I had a difficult time in trying to label Kyle and his purpose in this film; is he a soldier? A hero? A killer?

Cooper plays this role so well on screen it is difficult to determine who he is as a man in this dangerous climate, but what makes this movie so valuable is that it demonstrates the horror of what the idea of war can do to a man and those around him and those closest to him. Every shot taken, every man, woman or child killed, or almost killed, by Kyle’s trigger finger simply takes a piece out of his soul and makes it difficult for him to connect with anyone not in uniform, especially his wife Taya, played by Sienna Miller, and their two children.

This is certainly an intense feature to watch because the subject matter is so compelling and tragic. I can see why Eastwood gravitated towards this movie as a director because in a way, American Sniper could be interpreted as a Western but set in the recent/modern Middle East with Kyle as a lawman who comes into an wild and unruly establishment trying to bring justice to a lawless and merciless environment. Eastwood would know something about Westerns given his experience in the film industry.

This movie certainly brings the reality of the Iraq War to the audience to discover for themselves. We hear about these atrocities being done a world away and how the men and women who serve over there see and suffer these horrors and how they never really come back home whole and the story of Chris Kyle certainly brings that element to the audience to experience for themselves; he saw and did things that took away pieces of what made him human and he and Taya had to deal with the wreckage that resulted in him doing his duty.

Sienna Miller (left), Clint Eastwood (center) and Bradley Cooper all shape American Sniper’s success

This is a constraining feature that was directed well, acted well, and written well to convey the message that war is destructive to the soul. There is actually a quote that hammers this message home, where Kyle’s friend compared war to a childhood memory where he and his friend had lived in a community with an electric fence around the area and this guy’s friends played a game to see who could hold on to the fence the longest.

This certainly will go down as Bradley Cooper’s most exemplary performance to date. Whether he is scoping a potential target, or screaming at a nurse to tend to his crying newborn daughter, or sitting in front of a turned-off television lamenting in his grief at the horrors that he saw and did, Cooper simply owns this role to the fullest degree.

There isn’t much to say regarding the remainder of the ensemble, outside of Sienna Miller. The cast of actors outside of Cooper and Miller, whether they are U.S. Soldiers, Servicemen, Marines or intelligence, common folk on the homeland, or insurgents, Al Queda, or targets, are simply transients who do what they do and then they are hardly seen again.

Credit should be given to Clint Eastwood and Jason Hall for adapting Kyle’s story from his autobiography written by Kyle, Scott McEwen and James Defelice. American Sniper is a quality war-drama with a grueling story behind it.

Honestly, whenever Kyle was sniping at a potential target with Geoffrey Milcat’s score accompanying the action, if Kyle had to take his shot, I was muttering “take it” myself because the situation called for it; this is a movie that pulls you in and it brings the reality of the situation to the forefront.

I felt that the cinematography, courtesy of Tom Stern, added to the realism that Eastwood wanted in this picture and the Joel Cox and Gary Roach’s editing allowed the story to flow naturally, giving the story and the scope a great sense of dimension to what Chris Kyle saw and did in the line and in life.

If a movie like The Hurt Locker had the message that war is a drug, then American Sniper should be a promotional video highlighting the dangers that come with that drug. I felt that this was a rather steady and profound film with a great degree of merit in its suspense.

I enjoyed watching American Sniper, I enjoyed watching Bradley Cooper in American Sniper and I feel that it was a movie worth watching.