Movie Review: Detroit

Back when he was a regular on “Saturday Night Live,” Eddie Murphy did a sketch called “Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood.” “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood…but when I move in,” he deadpans sorrowfully, “you all move away.” I thought of this when the opening of “Detroit,” explains how “white flight” followed the mass migration of Southern blacks to Northern cities hoping for a better life, but resulted in job loss and general disarray for the residents who stayed behind when whites departed for the suburbs. The viewer is plunged immediately into the city-wide chaos that is triggered when policemen raid an after-hours bar in July of 1967, supposedly because they lack a liquor license. While cops and the National Guard are brought in to deal with the rioters, we witness a police officer (Will Poulter) shoot an unarmed man fleeing down an alley. When confronted with his crime by his superior officer, Will just shrugs and points out that well, a black guy carrying groceries probably has a firearm tucked on him somewhere. Thus the stage is set for the main act – and tragedy.

Fast forward to nighttime as our main characters (led by Algee Smith and Fred Latimore), who are about to have the night from Hell, wait in the wings to perform Motown (while the group onstage belts out a rousing, “Nowhere to Run”). They are soon interrupted by police who insist that everyone clear out and go home. Meanwhile another young man (John Boyega) gets a call that he has to show up unexpectedly at his second job: a security officer. While John attempts to make the best of the situation and establish from the start that he’s there to work with the authorities, Algee and Fred decide to take a room at a run-down hotel called the Algiers. When they meet two white young women, who claim to be from Cleveland, the group eventually migrates to the room of Jason Mitchell, whose hot dogs are a welcome refreshment but whose play with a starter pistol is not. After the foursome leaves, Jason then does something that triggers those patrolling the street nearby, which includes Will. Assuming there is a sniper on the hotel roof, Will and his colleagues rush the Algiers, killing several black men in the process, then proceed to take the two white women and their black companions hostage, not letting them leave while they interrogate/brutalize them for a harrowing several hours – which eventually leads to a trial in which justice is sort of served, but mostly (spoiler alert) not.

Though far apart in time and location, “Detroit” reminded me of “Dunkirk.” We’re introduced to several groups of men (mostly) behaving nobly as they deal with being under perpetual siege. We learn very little about their pasts, and it takes awhile before we even figure out all their names. However, we’re instantly drawn into their world and endure their ordeal beside them, hoping for the best. Sadly, the real life events did not result in a satisfying come-uppance for those who deserved it, but the movie is well worth seeing. “What a load of (expletive),” Will exclaims, high fiving his lawyer after being exonerated at the trial. However, you can’t say the same for “Detroit.”

 

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Movie Review: The Circle

“Knowing is good. But knowing everything is better.” That’s the philosophy of social networking company guru/founder Tom Hanks in “The Circle.” The film, based on the best-selling novel by Dave Eggers, is the story of a naïve young woman (Emma Watson) who upgrades her McJob into a fancier customer service rep position at the Circle, and goes from making Kool-Aid jokes to – well, stop me if you’ve heard this plot before. If you have, you know what to expect – and that eventually the protagonist will snap back to her senses and fix everything in the climax, in which we cue the foot-stomping ovation. The other two company gurus are Patton Oswalt and the enigmatic “Ty” (John Boyega) who is known to be off the grid, but it’s Tom wearing the Baggy Sweater and Graying Beard Combo of Amiable Genius who is the standout – and no doubt, the most sinister in the end.

In the opening scene of “The Circle,” Emma takes a kayak out to enjoy the sun and sea, where she’s promptly interrupted by her phone ringing – symbolism alert – to the Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts.” Well, I thought, at least that’s more original than opening with the protagonist’s car speeding down the road with the stereo blasting. (That’s the next scene.) Emma is attempting to take a break from the stress of her job and her father’s (Bill Paxton) multiple sclerosis which their insurance won’t properly fund. Luckily, she soon gets a call from her friend (Karen Gillan) who has managed to get her an interview at the Circle. After she aces it, Emma is given a whirlwind tour of the facilities and given her own laptop (with her name on it, no less). She’s also plunged into the deep end as she belatedly clues into the fact that she needs to be more social – which means joining in the myriad of activities and options both on and offline (the difference soon becomes blurred). Her bohemian friend Mercer (Ellan Coltrane) tries to warn her that she’s getting in over her head, but Emma pays him no heed. If this brave new world has echoes of Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” well, at least everyone seems over-the-moon to be there and pumped that their employers are putting tiny cameras all over the globe so their whereabouts can be instantly pinpointed. (And Winston Smith never got to attend free concerts by Gen X icon Beck.) Eventually, Emma decides to be the first at the Circle to go completely “transparent,” that is have everything she does 24-7 live on camera so people can feel like a part of her life. But after things go south with her family and Ellan, she joins forces with another Circle-ite to end the façade of transparency.

Differences from the book include lack of sex scenes or romantic interests, including the scrapping of the character Francis – although there is a brief nod to the book project on child kidnapping prevention. Things tend to happen lickety split – you may feel at times as if you’ve nodded off and missed key parts. However, the meat of the novel is all there – including scenes that raise questions about a world in which everyone is held accountable by social networking. The protagonist is still a cipher, as she was in the book, but Emma does a good job of making her seem more than just one-dimensional. Like Jim Carrey in “The Truman Show,” she’s a pawn in a larger game but is ultimately able to see the light – and drag Tom and co. into it kicking and screaming, too.