Film: Detachment (2011)
Cast includes: Adrien Brody (The Pianist), Marcia Gay Harden (Mystic River), James Caan (The Godfather), Christina Hendricks (Mad Men), Lucy Liu (Kill Bill: Vol. 1), Blythe Danner (Meet the Parents) Sami Gayle (Blue Bloods), Betty Kaye
Director: Tony Kaye (American History X)
Genre: Drama (97 minutes)
"Let's not have people coming in. I'd like to do this without being interrupted." In very close up shots, we see Henry Barthes and others recording their thoughts about the recent events. Henry is troubled by feelings of detachment. "Most of the teachers here believed at one point they could make a difference." On the day Henry comes to this unnamed high school as a substitute teacher, Principal Dearden has just been told that she'll be fired if the school's No Child Left Behind test scores don't improve. But this is a school that's already been left behind because it's a dumping ground for problem kids. Mr. Barthes is the "best substitute on the call sheet" so he's been selected to teach English 11-A until they find a permanent teacher.
After introducing himself to a rowdy class, Mr. Barthes announces that anyone who doesn't want to be here is free to leave ... and he means it. The assignment for today is to write a "brief essay about what your parents or friends would say about you at your funeral." When one student gets abusive, Barthes tells him, "You can't hurt me. I understand your anger. I used to be angry, too." When Meredith stays after to comment about the incident, Barthes tells her, "Perhaps I've gotten used to it."
That night, Henry gets a call from the nursing home and has to go over. Henry is the only one his grandfather listens to. It's late and on the bus ride home, Henry is almost completely absorbed in sadness ... except there's a little drama playing out at the back of the bus. The man who just got a blowjob refuses to pay and gets violent. She's just a kid, about the same age as his students. But Henry doesn't want to get involved. Back to the interview ... "I spend a lot of time trying not to commit. My real job is to maintain order."
This film has won many festival awards and some critical acclaim, but it's not going to be a crowd pleaser. It paints a very dire picture of the state of today's education (and parental involvement). It's certainly thought provoking with elements of truth ... but it's so unrelentingly bleak, that it may leave many wondering what to make of it. Artistically, it's quite interesting, with excellent performances and unusual filmmaking techniques. Adrien Brody gives an exceptional performance as Henry Barthes, and it's a nice ensemble cast all around. While there are small glimmers of hopefulness, they are very small indeed. The excellence of the film's artistic merits is likely to be overshadowed by the grim, one-sided view of this important social issue. Henry describes it as "a sea of pain." Henry's class isn't scholastically accomplished, but his students have no problem understanding the meaning of doublethink: "To deliberately believe in lies while knowing they're false."
2 popped kernels (Scale: 0-4)
Adrien Brody gives an amazing performance as a substitute teacher whose own personal pain allows him to connect with the pain of his students.
Distribution: Mainstream limited release
Tempo: Cruises comfortably
Visual Style: Unvarnished realism
Character Development: Intense
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Thought provoking
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