Review: “Detroit” is Brutal, Messy and Essential

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I grew up in the shadows of Detroit. 

I was raised in the suburbs outside the city, in a commuter town that owed its existence to the white flight that contributed to the unrest of the 1960s. Despite my outsider status, when out-of-towners asked where I was from, I never said Warren. I said Detroit.

Even so, I rarely visited the city. Maybe for a Tigers game or a show at the Fox. As a teen, my parents dissuaded me from heading south of 8 Mile. In the 1980s and ’90s, Detroit had a reputation as a war zone. The car-jacking or murder capital of the world, depending on the year, you didn’t go there alone, and you definitely didn’t want to be there after dark. Detroit was a once-great blight on our state. People had abandoned it. If you did happen to be there at night, you could walk blocks without encountering a single person. Even the things the city was famous for — its automobiles and its basketball and football teams — found reasons to leave for the more affluent, safe and white suburbs.

I was born a dozen years after the riots of 1967, but you better believe I knew of them. Family members and teachers told me about the glow of flames in the distance that July, and of the rumble of tanks down Mound Road to keep the peace. The riots were largely seen as the reason the city had faded from its former glory. And because I grew up in mostly white circles, there was usually agreement on who was to blame — angry, unruly minorities who would rather burn their own city than obey the police. It wasn’t until I started attending college in the city in 1999 that I began to hear the other side of the story and realize the truth was more complex. 

“Detroit,” the latest collaboration between director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal (“The Hurt Locker,” “Zero Dark Thirty”) arrives at a time when its themes are still terrifyingly relevant and the wounds still raw. It’s an angry, brutal and bruising film. And while it’s flawed, it’s an essential starting point for a deeper conversation.

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