Bigelow reteams with her Zero Dark Thirty screenplay author Mark Boal to create a really harrowing, street level picture of people under siege in a war-torn city. I went into this film expecting a broader portrait of the Detroit Race Riots of 1967 than I ended up getting, but I think the decision to take this movie down into a narrower focus is a good one and the film ends up working really well as a kind of bottle story as we’re introduced to a varied cast of characters who then all come together for a fateful, terrifying night at a small motel. Bigelow captures the intensity of the violence that rages through the streets and the claustrophobia of the motel as well. The film is gritty, grimy and charged with constant tension; the longer you spend in the motel, the worse it feels, until you can almost taste the cigarette smoke and feel the oppressive heat. This movie is stifling, confining and brutal. The performances are absolutely brilliant right down to the line. I think John Boyega has the most complicated character, a black security guard drawn into the charged situation by chance and Boyega gives the performance of the movie in my opinion and the best performance of his career so far. He’s less showy than some of the other performers because his performance is more interior and restrained, but he has, I think, the widest range of emotions and the most complex motivations and feelings. He may lose out when it comes award season, maybe to some of the bigger performances from this very movie, but this performance is, I think, going down in history, award or not. Will Poulter, a young actor who is so good he managed to actually register as a memorable part of The Revenant, is gripping and scary as a racist cop who is genuinely driven by a moral code, just an unbearably repugnant one. Algee Smith gives a really, really fine performance; he makes his character feel the most vulnerable of the victims here, the one most likely to be completely destroyed even if he does manage to survive. Jack Reynor, an actor I’ve been back and forth on a couple of times, is absolute perfection as a cop that is painfully, horrifyingly, ultimately fatally, stupid; he finds a sense of dumb sheepish idiocy that is cringe-inducing it’s so real. I didn’t even recognize him, so fully does he disappear into the wide-eyed obliviousness of his character. Hannah Murray is spectacular as a white female victim who refuses to embrace her victimhood; John Krasinski overcomes all the affection the audience has for him as a performer with a brief role as a slimy, utterly reprehensible lawyer. Chris Coy has a tiny role as a terrifying police detective and he lands it like a ton of bricks. I should mention that these are not the only great performances in the film; I’m restricting myself to naming those that are really just above and beyond because everyone in the movie is so good. The documentary style filmmaking, the grimy production design and the naturalistic, powerful performances really do make this movie feel incredibly visceral and real. It really puts you in the experience of this hellish night in a serious way. It’s gripping, powerful and an intense experience; superlative in every way. 4 stars.
tl;dr – visceral & compelling, this intense film has the feel of absolute verisimilitude thanks to powerful performances and immersive direction; truly immersive & powerfully experiential. 4 stars.