2017 Certificate: 15

Synopsis

The murder of three black men by trigger-happy white policemen during the 1967 Detroit riots is the subject of this hard-hitting drama from director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker). Two nights after the unrest began, several officers - alerted to shots fired from the Algiers Motel - flouted procedure and violently interrogated guests, conducting a "death game" to intimidate confessions, leaving three innocents slain. A powerful thriller is distinguished by a chilling break-out performance from Brit Will Poulter as a racist cop.

Director

  • Kathryn Bigelow

Cast

  • John Boyega

  • Algee Smith

  • Will Poulter

  • Jacob Latimore

  • Jason Mitchell

  • Hannah Murray

  • Jack Reynor

Review

In the summer of 1967 as the National Guard and local cops patrolled the riot-torn streets of a sultry Detroit, there was a party going on at the Algiers Motel.

Just a few blocks from running street battles, it was a mainly African-American affair attended by wannabe singer Larry Reed (Smith) - whose band were ironically called The Dramatics - and his buddy Fred (Latimore).

In another room Vietnam vet Greene (Mackie) was playing cards with two out of town white girls (Game of Thrones' Murray and Dever).

Upstairs, party-goer Carl Cooper (Mitchell) makes the mistake of jokingly discharging a toy pistol, leading National Guard soldiers patrolling nearby to think that there's a sniper hiding in the Algiers.

Unfortunately, Detroit cop Philip Kraus (Poulter) - who is already facing a murder charge for shooting a looter in the back - gets there with his racist crew first and lines nine "suspects" up.

His modus operandi is to extract a confession by convincing his victims that their friends are being shot...but this psychological "death game" comes with a sickening show of genuine violence that sees the men pistol-whipped and battered while the women are beaten and accused of prostitution.

A profoundly disturbing mid-section of the movie is devoted to this hair-trigger, almost real time scenario with only black security guard Melvin Dismukes (Boyega) and a sympathetic National Guardsman acting as a brake on the increasingly unhinged Kraus.

Three people are left dead - all the victims of Kraus and his crew, yet the idea of justice prevailing in a city where dirt-poor black ghettoes are heavy-handedly policed by armed bigots is a vain one.

Bigelow has fashioned an even-handed yet searingly brutal depiction of events using testimony from those involved as well as genuine footage from the rebellion powerfully blended into Barry Ackroyd's gritty cinematography.

It's a hard watch...but essential cinema.

Tim Evans