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Katherine Bigelow’s powerful testament reminds us not just of our history, but, especially in light of recent events, makes us wonder if we, indeed, have learned anything from it.

As we note the 50th anniversary of the Detroit riots, this somber and imperfect piece takes us through the notorious days when one of America’s largest cities was under attack from its own. The inequity of urban life is noted but the real focus of this memorial is its look at the relationship between the police force and the citizens they served. While there is graphic and painful enactment of police brutality and its legal aftermath, writer Mark Boal does not totally paint a one sided picture. There are “good cops” and “bad civilians” shown, too, in a short but clear effort to present the complexities of a very dark moment in our country’s history.

Ah, history. There’s that word again. Yes, we are looking at a period piece (nicely set against the true backdrop of the “accepted”, i.e. white popularity of Motown music) but how can we watch this movie without thinking of what is happening in America now? We can not. And we should not.

Bigelow has gone on record, describing her intent as more journalistic than, perhaps, artistic. And she is entitled to slant her efforts however she wants to. I did find the urgency of the film, particularly in a few scenes, wrenching. And I’m not just referring to the obvious, violent ones. There’s a moment when an elderly woman discovers a man hiding under car that’s as powerful as any other, if you let it be. Standouts in the cast include a fine John Boyega, a wonderful Anthony Mackie and a dynamite Jason Mitchell, who was also superb in Straight Outta Compton. It’s not Will Poulter’s fault he seemed to embody a young Michael Keaton, but the resemblance diverted me when I should have been forced not to look, or think, away.

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