“Detroit” is a strange film. It opens with an animated montage covering African-American history, spends half an hour or so jotting around different characters and subplots, spends the majority of its runtime on one sequence, then spends what minutes are left on denouement.
That long sequence is executed very well by Kathryn Bigelow, feeling properly tense and unpredictable (apparently she intentionally did not have blocking set out for the actors and encouraged them to improvise their movements while following them with handheld camera setups – this was very effective and made the film feel more like horror than anything else in moments), the material around it is shaggier and feels like unnecessary insertions of traditional narrative and character tropes into events otherwise depicted with appropriate realism.
There’s a great short film covering the Algiers incident in here, surrounded by a much less great film covering the Detroit riots more broadly. Adding in some context made the film feel more incomplete, whereas in the middle there’s a great tone piece that articulates what’s on the film’s mind better than the actual dialogue and montages stating it. Three and a half cigarettes and a hotel.