Director Tony Kaye (American History X) is back in Cinemas with his latest film Detachment and this time around the hell he explores is a public high school somewhere in New York. Filled with disillusioned teachers, unmotivated, dysfunctional students and indifferent parents the school is on the verge of being shut down because of its low test scores causing property values to drop.
Adrien Brody plays the lead in this fractured film, his character Henry Barthes is a substitute teacher, and although Barthes is dedicated to his students he not really willing to commit and make a lasting difference in their lives. In his free time he regularly visits his sick, slightly senile grandfather in a nursing home, cares for a 15 year-old run-away prostitute and writes his thoughts into journals.
While the story pivots around the saintly figure of Brody his supporting cast includes big names like Marcia Gay Harden as the besieged principle, Lucy Lui as the stressed out guidance councillor, James Cann as a pill-popping cynical teacher and beautiful Christina Hendricks as a colleague who tries to initiate some romance with Henry. And although tiny glimpses into the faculty members home lives try to give reasoning and depth to these characters and their actions most scenes seem too unrealistic and bleak. .
Newcomer Sami Gayle as Erica the runaway prostitute however is vibrant and vulnerable and most of the better and tender moments of the film are between her and Brody. And although her transformation from mistreated prostitute to homemaking surrogate daughter is a little too fast, she is the only positive light in this dark film.
Detachment tries to mask its somewhat over the top storyline by using arty tricks like crude chalk drawings, quotes by Albert Camus and Edgar Allan Poe, grim monologues directed at the camera and garish disjointed flashbacks. Instead of enhancing the flow of the story or giving depth to it these interferences often fracture it more and feel too forced.
Ultimately Brody excels in his performance as Henry Barthes, his calm exterior and obvious inner turmoil beautifully brought to screen in subtle actions and quiet moments. But sadly this is not enough to make Detachment a good film.