André Pitz’s review published on Letterboxd:
To anticipate this phrase: IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT has sadly lost absolutely nothing of its relevance since 1967.
Then, as now, equality is not a concept that can be measured exclusively in terms of varying weekly wages. Norman Jewison's film makes this unmistakably clear. It shows how practically irreparably broken the system is, through which those who profit from its structure can simply dabble with impunity.
The discrimination of minorities – in this case of the black cop Virgil Tibbs – is so firmly screwed into the system and consciousness that it seems like an unchallengeable natural law. All this, while legal laws exist, but are not enforced.
If failures occur, the causes are searched for exclusively at the edges of the majority society and not in its supposedly immaculate middle. The rules therefore do not apply to those who are supposed to enforce them.
Similarly, IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT is an expression of a discriminating meritocracy, in which a minority only gains value where others reach the limits of their expertise. And even this is then punished with envious racism and unfounded mistrust.
Whoever contradicts loses. Sidney Poitier makes the resulting inner conflicts visible in a brilliant way. His character Virgil Tibbs seems to keep a surprisingly cool head in the heat of the night. But beneath the surface, things are boiling – because he knows exactly that the system is against him, even though he is in the right.
In the end, IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT tries to sell a hopeful ending. But the outlook remains hopeless. Because Virgil Tibbs may have made a racist change his mind. But in the fields of Mississippi, more than 100 years after the end of slavery, black people are still being exploited. The alleged law of nature still exists, the legal law seems to play no part.
(watched as part of the 6th Annual Letterboxd Season Challenge: 2020-21 - Sidney Poitier Week)