Director: Tony Kaye
Notable Cast: Adrien Brody, Christina Hendricks, James Caan, Marcia Gay Harden, Lucy Liu, Blythe Danner, Tim Blake Nelson, William Petersen, Bryan Cranston, Sami Gayle
Review: The US school system will forever be a topic under scrutiny, and we’ve seen films explore the point of view from both students and teachers. Tony Kaye, director of American History X and numerous films stuck in production this very second, brings us Carl Lund’s emotionally charged script which focuses on the increasingly difficult role of teachers. More importantly though, Detachment is a story about love for mankind itself, spanning more than just love for one’s job. When a teacher oversteps boundaries in society’s eye, cries of unprofessionalism and inappropriate behavior run rampant. Yet, through Lund’s script, we find sometimes ignored children hunger for a role model to fill the void where one should be. How do we as compassionate humans turn away a youth crying out for help, even if the feelings are hidden? Detachment should help Kaye’s name return to mainstream relevance one again comprised of powerful performances and a well written script exploiting the exploitation of schools themselves, being one of the heavier hitters in theaters so far for 2012.
Henry Barthes (Brody) bounces school to school as a substitute teacher, filling the vacancy left by fed up professionals. A perfect job for someone hiding from emotions, just staying long enough in one place to impart wisdom and move on with no strings attached. But his next assignment will change Henry’s outlook forever. Replacing a teacher who loathed his job, Henry spends three weeks teaching English to underprivileged and under-motivated children growing up where life after high school rarely includes a college education. Between the numerous defeated teachers who deal with the feeling of failure or helplessness, the students who project no interest in a better life, the other students trapped by their hurtful peers and suppressive surroundings, and a young whore already given up on her own well-being: Henry has seen enough. Opening his heart, Henry strives to make a difference and extend uplifting promise to those struggling around him, but still meets resistance. Can a substitute teacher touch enough lives to make a difference in this messed up crazy world though? Or will people even appreciate what Henry tries to do? Or were his colleagues somber emotions enough of a sign the poor school is beyond repair. There’s a line that can’t be crossed, and Henry just might find it.
As long as it isn’t Predators, Brody is aces in my book…
Detachment deals with some close to home topics appearing in our school system that would incite political debate if discussed. In certain states right now, government officials want to revoke retirement funds and pension plans of teachers, negatively attacking the people volunteering to shape our nation’s future and put their blood, sweat, and tears into every child (well, most, as there’s always an exception). But, I’m not debating Governor Christie or attacking anyone’s campaign on this blog, so let’s stick to the film and not personal opinion. The issues raised by Lund and Kaye all hold a realistic gravity, so I’ll let them do the talking for me. Films have long been depicting the urban school system and the nightmare students and teachers alike face, but Detachment felt especially genuinely gritty and real, full of the true problems that plague hallways. Lund’s script outlines the whole gauntlet from parents who expect teachers to raise their children, rambunctious schoolchildren fighting the system every step of the way corrupted with dead-end hopes and dreams, zero support from political school officials: Detachment portrays a disturbing lack of effective backing to those who need it. Evoked is an essence of backlash from students, feeling if the system has given up on them, why shouldn’t they give up as well? A haunting message to receive given the situation is not far off base from numerous schools around the country, which makes Henry’s journey a powerful outcry to the hidden leader in us all.
Now, cast wise no one really overpowered screen time except for Brodie and newcomer Sami Gayle, but I’ll touch on them separately. Each other teacher depicted a different coping mechanism, some fighting the bleak realization while others accepted. Nelson lost control and respect, Liu snapped, Caan medicated, Hendricks ignored, Harden was ignored, and Brody fought to break the mold. Each character was unique and endearing, offering different perspectives yet revealing a scary situation teachers are forced to face head on. One unnerving scene involving Hendricks’ character being reamed out by a mother for expelling her daughter, arguing the teacher is at fault for not controlling her class and situation. Yet, we flash back to the incident and see Hendricks being threatened and humiliated by a hateful child obviously with no sense of respect or common decency. Unfortunately, some parents think they can just send their children to school and have some paid professional raise them from scratch, like a day care for teenagers. Yet when the child picks up bad habits at home and in an unregulated environment, the parents are first to swiftly blame anyone and everyone else. Depressing to say the least, knowing so many kids out there live the same neglected lives that lead to such unruly behavior, but perfectly depicted, what is a teacher supposed to do in said situation?
Onto Brody and Gayle. Their chemistry reminded of Leon: The Professional (Leon) with Jean Reno and Natalie Portman as a wee tot. No, not because Henry is a highly trained assassin, but in the father like care both men embrace. No creepy old man obsession or inappropriate motives, but genuine feelings for a child who needs better. Detachment marks one of Adrien Brody’s strongest performances in a while, showing us Henry’s internal struggle between saving the young in a socially acceptable way. Brody defies the boundaries and calls into question “appropriate” human kindness in a way that makes us all think, because sometimes people just need guidance and a warm gesture. Who gets to say where that guidance comes from? Gayle herself plays a spunky little prostitute with nowhere to go, but who sweetly turns from vagrant to child has Henry takes her in. A more heartwarming performance than Brody’s, as Sami Gayle has a bright future ahead of her if Detachment is any indication of her consistent work.
So much more than a bland depitction of underprivileged schools, Detachment gets right to the core of human emotion. You’ll watch some of the characters wanting nothing but to reach out and dust off all the evil negativity, which is a little heartbreaking to say the least. Children are supposed to be innocent and jovial, but Lund’s script brings to light the more hardened and grounded population of youth seemingly left by the wayside, and how all that building pressure eats away from inside with sometimes devestating results. A few scenes are emotionally draining to get through based on their cruel nature, but just add to the mounting drama Kaye and Lund create. Suffice it to say, Detachment is not a family movie night kind of feature, but a rewarding watch in terms of story and delivery. Between a wonderful ensemble cast and some harshly honest and eye-opening story telling, Detachment should work wonders for the careers of all involved, and stick in the minds of audience members for a positive change.
Final Rating: 8 cheerful substitute teachers out of 10
Caan is freakin’ aces as well. I really can’t stress how much I loved this cast….