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Film / Detroit

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"I need you to survive the night."
Detroit is a docudrama and the third collaboration between director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal. It stars John Boyega, Will Poulter and Anthony Mackie.

In the summer of 1967, rioting and civil unrest starts to tear apart the city of Detroit. Two days later, a report of gunshots at police prompts the Detroit Police Department, the Michigan State Police and the Michigan Army National Guard to search and seize an annex of the nearby Algiers Motel, searching for the shooter and the gun.

Things go From Bad to Worse in a very big hurry, as the entire annex ends up hostages to rogue cops. Who will survive the night?

Tropes found in Detroit

  • A-Team Firing: The gunfire that peppers the Algiers Motel, coming from Michigan Army National Guardsmen and Detroit Police Officers. It doesn't hit anyone, and causes outright panic by the occupants.
  • Artistic License – History: Text at the beginning of the film announces that the truth of the actual incident is clouded by conflicting testimony and holes in the information, so the film's depiction takes liberties.
    • Carl Cooper, who is shown firing the starter pistol at the police, was only 17 years old at the time of his death, while the actor playing him was 30.
    • The police were actually more brutal to the two white girls according to their testimony. They were more explicitly hostile to the women for courting black men and tore off their clothes deliberately rather than accidentally.
    • The film removes one of the lingering mysteries: Aubrey's body was found beside a rifle bullet casing in spite of the fact that neither the police nor any of the tenants of the hotel had a rifle during the event.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Of the survivors, Larry Reed is too traumatized to remain in the Dramatics and leaves before they make it big to work in a church choir, which is low-paying, but he seems to enjoy it. Karen gets out of the incident mostly intact, having children and finally living out her career as a hairdresser. The police receive no criminal convictions for their actions, though they never return to the force, and one is hit with a small civil suit. Dismukes takes a good chunk of the blame and is forced to move out of the city to avoid death threats.
  • Bystander Syndrome: The state police don't like the local cops tromping on citizens' civil rights, but they decide to not get involved and leave without doing anything about it.
  • Cassandra Truth: No one believes Dismukes when he lays the blame on the cops rather than himself and the real victims.
  • Composite Character: Krauss serves as one for a number of police officers.
  • Dirty Cop: Krauss learns his lesson after shooting a looter in the back and begins laying weapons at the feet of his victims so that he can claim he was shooting in self-defense. His fellow officers follow suit.
  • Disproportionate Retribution:
    • The name of the game with the Detroit PD, who shoot unarmed looters and terrorize black citizens.
    • The city cops in the Algiers are shown beating suspects for various real and perceived offenses.
  • Dramatization: While it is based on true events, some characters are changed and the film acknowledges that no definitive explanation has ever emerged for just what happened at the Algiers Motel.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Krauss shoots an unarmed looter and fails to understand that he did anything wrong when he learns the man he shot died from his wounds.
  • Fake Kill Scare: The cops make the people they're interrogating believe they've killed some of them, to get the others talking. It doesn't work.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Krauss is polite, soft-spoken, and forgiving... as long as he's not in control of the situation. The moment he gets even the slightest bit of power, it immediately goes to his head and he reveals his true self as a cruel, sadistic bully.
  • Heroic BSoD: Larry becomes a nervous wreck after the Algiers Incident, to the point that he paralyzes in fear whenever he sees a white person and avoids good-paying gigs at clubs because of his distrust for the police.
  • Hypocrite: Krauss claimed that they're trying to protect innocent lives... right before he threatens to kill the innocently accused one by one until they fess up about the gun.
  • Interrogated for Nothing: The people caught by the police in the Algiers are tortured and asked to tell who shot at the police and where is the gun. Most of them do not know who shot because they were in another room when Carl shot at the police with a toy gun. Moreover, there is no real gun to be found.
  • Karma Houdini: Double Subverted. The racist cops lose their jobs, but they'll never truly answer for the crimes they committed.
  • Kick the Dog: Krauss is established as a dangerous, trigger-happy and racist cop when he shoots a looter in the back with a shotgun.
  • Law Enforcement, Inc.: Private security companies were hired to protect stores during the riot, with the police being occupied. Dismukes was a guard for one, shown protecting a store with two others.
  • Miscarriage of Justice: The cops are acquitted in the aftermath. Ironically, Dismukes suffers more for his involvement in the events by receiving death threats from his own community, even though he is shown to have done everything he could to protect the victims.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Roberts and especially Dismukes. Both are tainted by association with the cops at the Algiers, with Dismukes questioned as a suspect in the murders and forced to move town by death threats in the epilogue.
  • One-Word Title: The title is simply Detroit, the name of the city where the events of the film (and the real historical events) are set. Also doubles as The Place.
  • Police Brutality: The Detroit police of the 1960s were notoriously racist toward the city's substantial black population. The film tells the story of when anti-police antipathy among the black population sparked into a riot, which set the stage for an unprecedented display of police brutality at the Algiers hotel.
  • Poor Communication Kills:
    • Krause doesn't make it clear to one of his fellow officers that they're only pretending to execute the suspects.
    • Most tenants of the Algiers saw Carl Cooper fire a starter pistol, yet when they are repeatedly ordered to give information on a tenant with a gun, no one plainly states this fact. Only two vague references to "a toy" are made. Even when directly questioned about whether Carl was the shooter, the people who saw him shoot the starter pistol at the cops say nothing.
  • Rabid Cop: Krauss and his two cronies. During the riot, they encounter real incidents of lawlessness and respond with vastly disproportionate force to the point that they can only be viewed as murderers themselves.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The film shows that there are good guys in law enforcement.
    • Krauss's superior officer is disgusted by his antics and recommends that he be charged with murder in his first shooting. He then sweats confessions out of two of Krauss's cronies and has the perpetrators of the Algiers incident tried for murder.
    • Larry escapes the Algiers hotel and is rescued by two white cops who show only honest concern for his well-being.
    • Subverted by the state police, who are concerned by the city cops' harsh tactics and report them back to their superior officer. He, too, expresses his disapproval, but decides to leave rather than stop them.
  • Returning War Vet: The riots start as the result of a police raid on a party thrown for two returning Vietnam vets. Greene is also fresh from Vietnam.
  • Riddle for the Ages: What happened to the starter pistol? Cops and tenants both search the house for it, but don't find it, and the epilogue states that it was never found. This is truth in television, as several tenants claimed that Carl Cooper had a starter pistol and neither it nor any real gun was found in the house.
  • Torture Is Ineffective: It really doesn't work when you're looking for a gun that never existed - so certain cops simply use it as an excuse to start killing people in the motel. Also, there is the fact that all of the suspects became terrified due to the torture, actually making their job even harder, though the cops never seem to realize this.
  • Villain Respect: Krauss seems to genuinely like and respect Melvin, but only because he considers him A Credit To His Race, a sentiment that sickens Melvin.
  • Vomit Discretion Shot: Dismukes vomits into a planter out of sight, although some falling liquid is briefly visible at one angle.
  • Where da White Women At?: Invoked by the cops when Greene is found with Karen and Julie.
  • The Whitest Black Guy: Dismukes is frequently on the receiving end of this trope, accused of being an Uncle Tom when he stops a confrontation between a white cop and a black teenager.
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: Melvin becomes physically ill when Krauss tells him that he likes him.
  • You Are a Credit to Your Race: Krauss grows to like Melvin for his respectful, honest demeanor, despite being a virulent racist. Melvin does not appreciate the sentiment.
  • You Didn't See That: Towards the end of the film, Krauss demands that a man tell him that he doesn't see the two dead men lying on the floor of a room. When the man refuses to deny their presence, he becomes victim #3.