Visceral ‘Detroit’ is a powerful cause-and-effect account of the Motor City’s 1967 race riots

Francois Duhamel, Annapurna Pictures

Anthony Mackie in “Detroit.”

“DETROIT” — 3 stars — John Boyega, Anthony Mackie, Algee Smith, Will Poulter, Jason Mitchell; R (strong violence and pervasive language); in general release

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, “Detroit” is a powerful, intense and moving film that can also be maddening to watch.

“Detroit” is based on the account of Detroit’s 1967 race riots and the trial that followed one tragic altercation between city police and local black citizens.

The film opens with a quick explanation of the mass migration of black Americans from the South to the industrialized North in the first half of the 20th century, and the racial tension that followed the transition of many white Americans out of industrial cities to nearby suburbs.

The action begins with the July 1967 police raid on an illegal club that initially triggered the multiday riot, spilling through the city with fires, looting and an intense atmosphere of chaos that Bigelow captures with grainy, handheld camerawork and quick editing. For a time, Bigelow, whose previous work includes “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” lingers on the growing riots, using a kinetic style to keep audiences locked on the action as we meet the principal characters whose lives are about to intersect with tragic results.

Officers Krauss (Will Poulter), Demens (Jack Reynor) and Flynn (Ben O’Toole) are a trio of Detroit policemen trying to make sense of the riots as they patrol the city. Krauss is their de facto leader, and in a foreshadowing foot chase, he mortally wounds a fleeing suspect.

Dismukes (John Boyega) is employed as both a factory worker and a nighttime security guard, trying to keep the peace as he is caught between the agitated police and his neighborhood uprising.

Larry (Algee Smith) is the lead vocalist of an up-and-coming soul group called the Dramatics, with aspirations to join Detroit’s homegrown Motown label. But when a key performance is…

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