I share critic Angelica Bastien’s low opinion of Kathryn Bigelow’s DETROIT, although not for the exact same reasons. The film lasts two and a half hours, and at the beginning, I was wondering what anyone could possibly object to. Then, one member of a group of black men (who are hanging out with two young white women) at the Algiers Motel in the midst of the Detroit riots fires a starter pistol, the cops hear it and arrive, and the film begins an hour-long section consisting of African-Americans being physically and psychologically tortured and eventually murdered by white cops. However one feels about the politics of THE HURT LOCKER and ZERO DARK THIRTY (I would defend the former, but I’m pretty dubious about the latter and wrote a review saying so at the time of its release), it seems clear that DETROIT sets out to be a liberal attack on racism and police brutality, but something went awry. Did Bigelow ever consider that maybe showing black men being tortured for an hour isn’t the most effective way to protest police brutality? Imagine a film that purports to defend transgender rights containing a similar montage of trans women being murdered over and over again – I think a lot of actual trans women would object to it. The reaction to DETROIT from African-American critics is telling: while white critics have mostly praised this film, they seem to universally dislike it. In a chat session with an African-American friend where we talked about the film, he brought up the point about who it was made for. I honestly don’t know. Very naive white people who know nothing about police brutality and need to have it rubbed in their faces ad nauseam? Seriously, this film continues the torture fetish that entered Bigelow’s work with ZERO DARK THIRTY, develops it much further and although it’s superficially coming from a much different political perspective than her previous film, it’s more sadistic than any film Takashi Miike or Gaspar Noe have made. For real. Beyond these issues, the structure and screenplay are incredibly reductive. The first half hour portrays the Detroit riots on something approaching a broad canvas, but the entire remainder of the film sticks to the events in the Algiers Motel and their aftermath. And a note in the end credits admits the amount of speculation that went into the script, since no one knows exactly what went on in the Algiers. (At least Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal were honest enough to admit that.) I don’t really think the problems with this film have to do with the fact that Bigelow is white, as Bastien claimed; they have more to do with the fact that she’s the director of ZERO DARK THIRTY. John Sayles is a lot less talented than Bigelow as a craftsperson, but I could see him making a historical epic out of this material which would be far superior to DETROIT. Despite the fact that Steve McQueen is black, SHAME and the worst parts of 12 YEARS A SLAVE suggest that he’s capable of making an equally offensive film. I have defended plenty of extremely violent films and am not squeamish or prudish, but Bigelow never seems to have realized that ten minutes of torture and murder could actually be much more effective at communicating the horror of police brutality than an entire hour of overkill which is likely to seem more assaultive than enlightening to people of color with firsthand experience of it.