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Detachment - Review


Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

TONY Kaye’s first film since American History X is the antithesis of the inspirational teacher movie. Rather, it’s so bleak it could put any prospective teaching applicant off in a heartbeat!

That said, there are some interesting ideas at play, as well as some fine performances, that make this an intriguing, if dispiriting trawl through the darker side of the profession, albeit with significant flaws.

Adrien Brody heads a strong ensemble as substitute teacher Henry, whose latest placement takes him to a failing American school under the tutelage of soon-to-be-ousted principal Carol Dearden (Marcia Gay Harden).

He does, however, immediately make a mark on some of his students, even threatening to inspire some. But any good work is undermined by the vagaries of the education system, the cynicism of colleagues and the negative knock on effect this eventually has on his class.

And to make matters more complicated, Henry must cope with an ailing grandfather who may or may not have contributed to his own difficult upbringing and becoming an unlikely surrogate father to a teen prostitute, Erica (Sami Gayle), he shows kindness to.

At its best, Kaye’s film succeeds in conveying the increasing difficulty of a profession that lacks support and respect and how social surroundings can account for whether a school will succeed or fail.

It also offers some terrific performances, especially from Brody whose descent into despair is pain-stakingly etched.

Look out, too, for good work from old hand James Caan as a comically cynical guidance counsellor, Lucy Liu as a struggling colleague and Gayle as the young prostitute, whose own personal journey offers the movie its genuine heart.

On the downside, the relentlessly bleak tone will wear you down while the use of voice-over carries an air of pretension.

Kaye also over-directs at times, both in the suffocating sense of impending tragedy and in the way he assembles certain shots, many of which threaten to take you out of the film.

He also struggles to do justice to all of his starry cast, only hinting at stories for some that might have enhanced proceedings.

Hence, the likes of Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Tim Blake Nelson and even Caan are barely used even though they do enough to warrant further attention.

If anything, Detachment struggles just as much as the pupils and teachers it depicts to pass a robust critical examination, often failing to realise it’s full potential.

It gets a C for effort but film’s like Laurent Cantet’s The Class have tackled the same kind of subject in a much better, more realistic and less over-bearing manner.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 97mins
UK Release Date: July 13, 2012