Director Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty) directs this uneven yet powerful at times account of the infamous 1967 Algiers Motel incident, part of a race riot that put the city of Detroit under siege.
When a man fires off a starter pistol from his hotel window during intense riots, the police and National Guard converge on the Algiers, and a terrible night ensues. It results in three men shot to death, others psychologically and physically tortured, and the sort of judicial rulings in the aftermath that have been all too commonplace.
John Boyega plays Dismuke’s, a security guard who finds himself entangled in the bloody events perpetrated by racist policemen led by Krauss (a legitimately scary Will Pouter). The men and women held captive at the Algiers are played by a strong ensemble cast including Jason Mitchell, Anthony Mackie, Hannah Murray, Kaitlyn Dever, Nathan Davis, Jr. and Algee Smith. The film feels a bit too fictional in spots. In an odd move, Bigelow incorporates real stock footage along with scenes meant to look like stock footage, much in the same way Oliver Stone did in J.F.K., further confusing fact from fiction. She’s going for a documentary feel, but the script sometimes calls for cartoon caricatures with its bad policemen.
No doubt, most of the policemen at the hotel that night were a bunch of monsters, but the portrayals of them (beyond Poulter’s) feel too cliché and, in some cases, aren’t well acted. There are enough strong performances to make it worth your while, and while some of the details seem manufactured, this is a true story that needed to be told, even if it seems tainted by fiction at times.