This is the fifteenth post in the “The Best Films Set In…” series. The setting can be a place (like Tokyo), a location (like the beach), or a time (like Winter). In these posts we’re going to pick our 5 favourite films that are set in that particular place/location/time and explain why we like them. In this edition we visit the urban jungle that is Detroit.
Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch, 2013)
My favourite film of 2014 is one which uses the now iconic distressed neighbourhoods and empty factories of Detroit to great effect. Adam (Tom Hiddleston) lives in a ramshackle homestead on the outskirts of an abandoned neighbourhood. At night he drives around the city, his headlights lighting up empty roads, and derelict buildings – the city is full of shadows, death and an atmosphere of other worldliness. The city contrasts wonderfully with Eve’s (Tilda Swinton) chosen home, Morocco – its warmth, liveliness and population density is a far cry from grim and darkness of Detroit.
Grosse Pointe Blank (George Armitage, 1997)
A hitman (John Cusack) goes back to his hometown of Grosse Point, an upscale suburb of Detroit, for his 10 year high school reunion. While back in Grosse Point, our hitman also has to do a job for a client he owes for a prior stuff up. I love the sharp, witty dialogue in this film, and the chemistry between Minnie Driver and Cusack is fantastic. Interestingly, only certain aerial shots shot in Grosse Point; the majority of the film was actually shot in California.
Robocop (Paul Verhoeven, 1987)
Set in a crime-ridden Detroit of the near-future, Robocop follows police office Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) who is murdered, and then revived as a powerful cyborg law enforcement officer. While the film is set in Detroit, most of the outdoor city scenes were filmed in and around Dallas, Texas. Detroit is not portrayed particularly well in the film – it’s shown to be a place filled with criminals, crooked law makers, severe inequality, and broken dreams. While this is a decent action film, it’s the wit and sharpness of the writing that has stayed with me.
8 Mile (Curtis Hanson, 2002)
One of the few movies set in Detroit that was actually filmed on location, 8 Mile is the semi biographical account of a white rapper (played by Eminem) who tries to launch a career in rap music, a genre dominated by African-American artists. The film’s title comes from ‘8 Mile Road’, a highway in Detroit that separates the predominantly black neighbourhoods, from the mostly white middle-class suburbs. In this Detroit, life is pretty tough, and it’s near impossible to rise up above the confines of the class that you are born into. The soundtrack for this film is amazing, and I still consider it among my favourite rap albums of all time.
Out of Sight (Steven Soderbergh, 1998)
Adapted from Elmore Leonard’s 1996 novel of the same name, Out of Sight is a sassy, fun crime caper. When Jack Foley (George Clooney) escapes from prison, US marshal, Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez) gets caught up in the escape and with Foley (in more ways than one). Their romantic interlude in a Detroit hotel (you know, between the escaping and scheming to rob diamonds) is a seriously sexy piece of filmmaking – Clooney and Lopez have absolutely undeniable chemistry. Out of Sight was filmed in several locations, including Detroit.
Other films: Narc (Joe Carnahan, 2002), It Follows (David Robert Mitchell, 2014), The Island (Michael Bay, 2005), Gran Turino (Clint Eastwood, 2008), The Crow (Alex Proyas, 1994).
By Sam McCosh