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Non-Review Review: Detroit

Detroit is a powerful and visceral piece of cinema, one that loses its way in a muddled second act.

The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty cemented Kathryn Bigalow’s talent for conveying a sense of chaos and disorganisation on film. It can be very difficult to capture the messiness of real life in the movies, given how cluttered narratives can become distracting or disorienting. It takes a very real talent to guide the audience through this carnage in a way that captures the organic ambiguities of the story while ensuring that nobody is lost or distracted. Bigalow has a very rare talent for that.

Insecurity guard.

Unsurprisingly, Detroit works best in its opening and closing acts, when the narrative pulls back to the real-life story covering the Detroit Riots in late July 1967. The film’s opening and closing beats have the feel of a weird docudrama, with Bigalow using handheld cameras and tight focus in a way that allows her to blend footage of the cast with archive material. Characters are identified by legends down the bottom of the screen, while the audience is frequently put in the position of confused spectators in a way that captures the mere anarchy loosed upon the city.

However, Detroit fumbles a little bit in its second act. For the middle of the film, Detroit narrows its focus significantly. Instead of providing socio-economic and political context for the entire riots, or dealing with the aftermath of horrific events, Detroit transforms into a story about a bunch of characters locked in a confined space together. As the film’s closing text admits, these sequences are much less verifiable than the snapshots populating the opening and closing acts, much less a matter of public record.

Big Mackie.

The second act of Detroit is a more conventional fictional narrative. While the movie is never less than interesting and clever, that organic sensibility is lost. During the first and third acts, the focus is on the broader story of the larger community, so it does not matter that many of these characters feel like archetypes and ciphers. When Detroit zooms in on the characters, they seem drawn too crudely to support the scrutiny. Detroit works a lot better as an epic social study, and less well as a claustrophobic character study.

Bigalow struggles to get the balance right, resulting in a film that is certainly ambitious and worthy, but also more uneven than her recent output. Detroit is too confident and too professional to be deemed a failure, but its second act is too shallow to be a success either.

I predict a riot.

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Right Here, Right Now: Thoughts on Kathryn Bigalow’s Osama Bin Ladin Project…

It’s interesting that the piece of news which grabbed me most coming out of the whole news cycle around the assassination of Osama Bin Ladin by US troops in Pakistan wasn’t any of the discussion over the legality of the act, nor the debate over whether assassination is now an acceptable tool of foreign policy. It was the near-instantaneous announcement that Kathryn Bigalow would be working on a feature film adaptation of the killing, an adaptation that reportedly has a mostly finished script and a lead actor already. Perhaps it’s a stunning illustration of just how quick the news and media cycle is, but I wonder how quick we feel the need to turn history into cinema.

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The Photo of the Oscars 2010

Kudos to The Film Cricket for pointing it out over at Screenwriter, but this has to be the photo of this year’s Oscars cermony.

Who says James Cameron doesn’t have a sense of humour? Either that or he really wants to put his ex-wife in the Hurt Locker.

Reaction to the Best Picture Oscar Nominations…

Well, it’s been a week since the nominations were announced. I think I’m as adjusted as I’ll ever be to this year’s crop of Oscar contenders. Am I happy? Relatively. Am I delighted? No. Am I as filled with disappointment and rage as I was last year? Not nearly. Does this mean we can judge the ten horse race a success? I’m not so sure. Let’s take a look at the good, the bad and the worse of this year’s nominations, snubs and just inexplicable nods. I’ll be taking a look at the acting nominations later in the week, because this post just ballooned. Rather fitting given the expansion of the category, no?

Let the speculating and analysis and moaning begin...

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Non-Review Review: The Hurt Locker

I’ve always said that great movies take the audience on a trip somewhere, so it’s really appropriate that The Hurt Locker brings viewers on a trip to hell. Or as close as it is possible to get to hell on earth. A place where flies roam the bodies of the still living in the desert heat or where even the cats walk with limps and scars or where the dead are stuffed with explosives to mount an attack upon any member of the living not callous enough to know better than to care. This is Iraq, where anything – and anyone – could turn out to be fatal and this is the story of those who survive there, those who die there and – against unlikely odds – those who thrive there.

Sadly, Guy Pierce's improvised retelling of "Moon", complete with homemade space suit, did little for troop morale...

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