“Detachment,” from director Tony Kaye of “American History X” fame, prides itself on the fact that it is a depressing portrait of damaged high-schoolers and one particularly contaminated educator.
It’s not an easy movie to watch.
Henry (Adrien Brody) is a remarkably talented teacher who jumps from school to school, never staying in one place for too long. He stands apart from other teachers because of his true talent for connecting with his students. He takes a long-term substitute teaching position at a public school where the burned out administrators purposefully distance themselves from the troubled youth that take up the majority of the school.
Henry quickly becomes a role model, particularly to one runaway teen he came across on the streets. After inviting the teenage girl, Erica (a break-out performance by Sami Gayle), into his home to fix her up, it seems as if Henry is willing, at last, to open up to another human being again.
The film’s title refers to Henry’s condition, in that he can never emotionally connect to someone else for a long period of time because he doesn’t want to get too attached. But since he is a uniquely gifted teacher, why wouldn’t he want to utilize that talent and stick to one school overall?
The impressive supporting cast includes Marcia Gay Harden, as the principal, Lucy Liu, as the guidance counselor and Christina Hendricks and James Caan as fellow teachers. All play their parts perfectly, I just wish we saw more of them.
However the film isn’t about the supporting cast of characters. It showcases Brody as the film’s protagonist, and his performance is breathtaking. With all the suffering that goes on in the film, no one is aching as much as Henry. His grandfather is on the verge of death at a nursing home, and he’s haunted by flashbacks of his alcoholic mother who committed suicide during his youth.
Screenwriter Carl Lund, a former teacher, attempts to put together an engaging story, but his writing mixes poorly with Kaye’s snappy edits and intense close-ups. The film tries too hard to pull at our heartstrings every ten minutes which gets exhausting to watch, however Brody’s fierce performance makes it at least watchable.
Brody can’t save the plot that goes from touching to the completely ridiculous and at times, disgusting. Horribly animated blackboard doodles of people hanging themselves take over the screen sporadically throughout the movie, and it didn’t work with the natural flow of the film.
If you’re a fan of the Academy Award winner Brody, you may just enjoy the film. Otherwise “Detachment” is so far off its rocker at times, it gets quite tiresome pretty quickly.