At the Movies

Michael Wood

Kathryn Bigelow’s impressive new film, Detroit, is full of disturbing violence, but its most disturbing moment is entirely non-violent. It comes too late in the film to help in any way, and just in time to worry us. It is a sentence on a title card explaining that some of the facts in the historical situation at the heart of the film are still in dispute. We knew the movie was a movie, and had no problem with the insertion of documentary images into sequences played by actors and manifestly invented by a writer, the admirable Mark Boal. We knew the basic narrative was a reconstruction: how could it not be, if the facts were historical and we are seeing them now? In this sense even the immediate memories of actual persons involved in the recounted events would be reconstructed. In another sense we also knew we were in a fiction film because the film is full of fictions. The proposed reality of the story is littered with tricks and illusions. ‘We don’t bluff,’ one of the characters says. ‘This is Detroit.’ He says this in the midst of a major piece of bluffing.

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