By Gregg Shapiro

 

Co-directed by Sasha King and Brian O’Donnell (with a screenplay by O’Donnell), Akron (Wolfe/Towpath) is a well-made indie feature with strong and memorable performances. The film is a recipient of numerous awards and nominations on the film festival circuit.

 

Akron opens with a tragedy in a supermarket parking lot. Carol (Amy da Luz) accidentally hits and kills Davy, the eldest of Lorena’s (Andréa Burns) two young sons, with her minivan. Fast forward to the present day, Benny (Matthew Frias), the younger brother of Davy, is a college freshman, majoring in biomedical engineering. Not only is Benny smart, but he’s also incredibly hot and athletic. His best friend Julie (Cailan Rose), invites him to take a break from studying and play a game of mudball. Benny’s glad that he does because that’s where he meets equally hot fellow freshman Christopher (Edmund Donovan). Their attraction is immediate. Benny, who lives off-campus, at home with his mother Lorena, father David (Joseph Melendez) and younger sister Becca (Isabel Machado), shares the news about meeting Christopher with his family, all of whom are unconditionally supportive. Christopher’s divorced mother Carol, who moved away from Akron and lives in Florida, is also a loving and encouraging parent.

 

After dating for a few months, Benny and Christopher take a Spring Break road-trip together to see Carol. On the day they are hitting the road, Benny brings Christopher home to meet his parents. Everything goes well until Christopher mistakes a framed photo of a boy for Benny. Lenora corrects him, saying it’s a picture of Davy, who died young. In a subtle way, you can see from the expression on Christopher’s face that he quickly put the pieces together. You see, Christopher was in the backseat of the minivan on the day of the accident that took Davy’s life.

Christopher, unsure of how to proceed, whether or not he should say something to Benny or to Carol before she meets Benny, remains tight-lipped. However, we can see the turmoil he’s experiencing. Not long after Benny and Christopher arrive at Carol’s, after they’ve had dinner and retired for a soak in the hot-tub, Carol is also able to make the connection. Naturally, the revelation has an overwhelming impact on Benny, as well.

 

At this point, Akron becomes a film about forgiveness, while asking and answering the age-old question about if it’s possible to choose with whom you fall in love. The lead actors, aside from being incredibly nice to look at, give knockout performances bringing the film and the relationship, with all of its complexities to vivid life. Akron is strongly recommended.

 

Detroit (20th Century Fox), constructed and dramatized, based on the recollections of those involved in the violent incident that occurred at the Algiers Motel in Detroit during a 1967 riot in that long-troubled city, is Oscar-winning Kathryn Bigelow’s first film since 2012’s Zero Dark Thirty. The cinematic style that served Bigelow so well in her Academy Award-winning feature The Hurt Locker and the Oscar-nominated Zero Dark Thirtyactually works against her here in this more intimate setting. While Detroit couldn’t be released at a more opportune time, it’s self-indulgent and much too long, not to mention treading in the rapids of cultural appropriation.

 

Detroit opens with a little historical background about how factory jobs in the north drew African-Americans who were leaving the South. In some places, including Detroit, this led to both white flight to the suburbs and segregated neighborhoods in urban areas. Combined with the rising racial tensions in the ‘60s and the illusion of equal opportunity, rebellions and riots were commonplace. With Detroit’s overcrowded black neighborhood aggressively patrolled by a mostly white, racist police force, it was only a matter of time before the powder keg blew.

According to Detroit, everything came to a head in July of 1967. Unwarranted police raids led to arrests and a confrontation with the police. The situation escalated. Store windows were broken, there was looting and fires were set. In spite of pleas for the angry mobs not to mess up their own neighborhood, there was rampant devastation.

 

On the third day we witness young, out-of-control police officer Krauss (Will Poulter) shoot and kill a looter. This is the first of what will be several of Krauss’ racially motivated acts of violence. When the guests staying at the annex of The Algiers Motel innocently fire a starter gun out a window, they are met by gunfire from police and soldiers. When the police, including Krauss, enter the motel, they round up guests and the long night of torture and terror begins. One moment of potential hope is dashed when the Michigan State Police decide not to get involved in what they see as a civil rights situation.

 

Interwoven into the plot is the story of rising soul group The Dramatics. The band’s lead singer Larry (Algee Smith) and manager Fred (Jacob Lattimore), trying to avoid being swept up in the street melee, end up at The Algiers shortly before the police raid and subsequent night of terror and mounting body count.

 

Just as that July 1967 night became chaotic, so does Detroit itself, spinning off into an unsuccessful courtroom drama. Bigelow bit off more than she could chew with this movie, which is unfortunate because it’s a story worth telling, just not in this way.