From the director of American History X, Detachment puts a new spin on the teacher-in-an-inner-city-school subgenre. Adrian Brody plays a no-nonsense-badger-don't-give-a-f**k substitute teacher who pushes himself through life with few emotional connections. Until he decides to help a teenage prostitute.
Brody plays Henry Barthes, a lost man whose only relationship is with his dementia-ridden father. He moves from school to school, afraid to form bonds with his coworkers and students who inevitably will disappoint him.
Detachment is more depressing than most movies of this sort, continuing the theme of cyclical and perpetual vitriol that coursed through American History X. In that classic, the focus was on how hate begets more hate; in Detachment, the emphasis is on how parents who don't care will result in children who don't care, which in turn will result in a new generation of children who don't care.
But Detachment isn't Dangerous Minds, where the teacher inspires students to be greater and many of them go on to do greater things in life. The film is a character study of one man, and a social commentary on the system. Henry impacts his students' lives and makes them more focused and attentive, but he alone can only do so much.
The film is highlighted by several strong performances and falls heavily on Brody's shoulders to bring Tony Kaye's story to life. Brody turns in his best performance since his Oscar-winning role in The Pianist, though that's not saying much given the roles he's chosen since 2002. Despite a supporting cast that includes Marcia Gay Harden, James Caan, Christina Hendricks, Lucy Liu, Blythe Danner, Tim Blake Nelson, William Petersen and Bryan Cranston, the remaining accolades go to Sami Gayle and Betty Kaye, who play the teenage prostitute Henry "adopts" and a bullied teen, respectively.
Detachment looks great, but falls just short of being great. As strong as the narrative is, Kaye and screenwriter Carl Lund intersperse the story with talking head interviews that has teachers discussing what's wrong with the system. It's an extremely cheap way of tackling the film's themes, when the actual story does the trick just fine.
Still, Detachment is a moving and engaging film. It's no American History X, but it's a film that deserves more attention than it has thus far received.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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