That certainly isn't the role he plays. Although there are heroic elements to him, Boyega's character is far too frightened and conflicted – too real – to be the kind of protagonist he's billed as. This is consistent with the rest of Kathryn Bigelow's film. Although elements of it feel a little too thrillerish (in a way that we've already voiced concern over), make no mistake: this is a bleak film about a bleak subject.
One night, during the chaos and bloodshed of the riots, a group of white policemen are drawn to the Algiers by gunshots. They suspect a sniper; what they actually heard is a starting pistol, fired in jest by one of the young black men staying in the hotel to avoid trouble. Officer Krauss (Will Poulter) – who has already shot an unarmed black looter in the back and gotten away with it – is first on the scene, and there's bloodshed immediately.
Krauss knows he needs to find a sniper in the hotel in order to justify his violence, so he rounds up the hotel's inhabitants (all black men, except for two white women whose presence irks the racist cops) and demands answers. There's no sniper, of course, so answers are unforthcoming. Krauss gets desperate. People get hurt.
Wil Poulter in Detroit
It's grimly engaging and might make for queasy viewing if Bigelow wasn't so attuned to the complicity of passive spectatorship. This is where Boyega's character comes in.
He plays Melvin Dismukes, a security guard at a nearby grocery store who gets dragged into the mess at the hotel. Dismukes fancies himself as a canny insider, a black man who can use his authoritarian status to reduce the damage that white authority figures inflict on young black men. But, at the Algiers, his method of soft mitigation comes up short in the face of Krauss' increasingly desperate hatred. It's not enough to play along with power and then quietly dust off the victims when no one's looking.
Watching Dismukes process this is one of the most wrenching things about Bigelow's wrenching movie. Repulsion, fear, and willing blindness shift around Boyega's face, neither reconciled nor cancelling each other out. There is always the temptation to look away from horror. Bigelow, to her credit, doesn't flinch.
|What||Detroit film review|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
25 Aug 17 – 25 Feb 19, Times Vary
|Price||£determined by cinema|
|Website||Click here for more details|