Detachment * * * 1/2

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Director: Tony Kaye.
Screenplay: Carl Lund.
Starring: Adrien Brody, Marcia Gay Harden, James Caan, Christina Hendricks, Lucy Liu, Blythe Danner, Tim Blake Nelson, William Petersen, Bryan Cranston, Sami Gayle, Betty Kaye, Louis Zorich.

Having been a big fan of “American History X” in 1998, I was eager to see what else director Tony Kaye had in store. Unfortunately, he didn’t make that many films and those that he did – “Lobby Lobster” and “Black Water Transit” – didn’t quite reach a bigger audience. As a result, I was happy to come across “Detachment” which proves that Kaye hasn’t lost any of his style or starkness.

Henry Barthes (Adrien Brody) is a substitute teacher brought into a struggling urban high school to teach English and work with kids who are performing at a very low grade. Being a substitute is exactly the way Henry likes it as he deliberately tries to avoid making genuine connections with people (and that includes his pupils). As time goes on, though, Mr. Barthes realises the pupils’ need for his input and which forces him to confront his own demons and isolation.

And never have I felt so deeply at one and the same time so detached from myself and so present in the world.

As the film opens, this is the quote from French philosopher Albert Camus that’s scribed onto a blackboard before we are introduced to the protagonist and the personal conflict he finds himself in. On the one hand, he’s a caring individual but on the other, he deliberately keeps a distance from people as he’s consumed by a guilt that doesn’t belong to him. His detachment is also reflected in the frustrated and disillusioned pupils he teaches, making this a melting pot of emotionally dysfunctional people. It’s this very mirroring in the individuals that make this quite a thought provoking character study, as well as a diatribe on the state of the American educational system and the problems therein.
Kaye shoots the film with an edgy, fly on the wall approach, utilising the shaky-cam technique and numerous close-ups that bring you closer to the characters and their inner turmoil. There’s also the assembly of a very impressive cast, all-be-it, a lot of them are wasted in thankless, underwritten roles. The likes of Bryan Cranston, Blythe Danner and William Petersen needn’t have turned up at all, but James Caan lightens the mood whenever he’s onscreen and the young unknowns get a chance to shine instead; particularly, (the director’s daughter) Betty Kaye, who develops a crush on her teacher and Sami Gayle as a young prostitute who develops a similar infatuation. The real star, though, is a brooding and commanding Brody. He’s rarely offscreen for the entirety of the film and even though it’s no surprise that he delivers his usual reliability, he’s especially good with a very powerful and charismatic performance. However, the cast and the impressive handling of the material can’t save the film from being overly depressing, or when drawing to it’s conclusion, descending into melodrama from which it never fully recovers.

Cut from the same cloth as the, Oscar nominated, Ryan Gosling movie “Half Nelson“, director Tony Kaye delivers a good insight into the difficulties of teaching and the importance of instilling a good childhood and sense of self in our youth.

Mark Walker

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32 Responses to “Detachment * * * 1/2”

  1. Never even heard of this film, but I liked Half Nelson, so should really check it out sometime. Thanks for the review, nice work as always.

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    • Thanks Ewan, it’s certainly worth a look. I was a massive fan of Half Nelson and this did remind me of it a little. It’s not as good but still has many things to recommend it.

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  2. GaryLee828 Says:

    Brody was phenomenal as always, and I think Sami Gayle is a rising star. I thought this movie was great! This is listed on my “Obscure Recommendations” page on my blog; You should check it out as I’ve listed a lot of quality unknowns, and if you like “Detachment” I’m sure you’d like a lot of the others on the list, as well. 🙂

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    • Brody was indeed superb Gary and I totally agree on Sami Gayle. She a wonderful little actress. I expect to see her name crop up again in the near future.

      I’ll swing by on your Obscure Recommendations. I’m always looking for obscure film’s. There are so many little treats that await many filmgoers and all it takes is a point in the right direction. Cheers man!

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      • GaryLee828 Says:

        Check out this romantic drama “Girlfriend” about a dude with Down’s Syndrome who pursues this girl that he’s liked since high school. It’s on netflix streaming if you have that. It’s excellent! 🙂

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      • I’ll look into that one Gary. Sounds like something I might like. I don’t use Netflix but I’ll track it down one way or another. Thanks again buddy.

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  3. I liked this as well…not great, but good. Really shows how bad the educational system really is. The teachers have very little to work with.

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    • Yeah, good movie Chris. The melodrama towards the end let it down a bit but otherwise it was very well delivered. If this is a true representation of the educational system in the US then there are serious problems.

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  4. Nice review Mark. I wasn’t aware of this one but I liked American History X too, so I would definitely be interested in checking this out.

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    • Yeah, you should definitely give this one a go Chris. Not as good as American History X but still worthy of some attention. Brody alone, is worth the price.

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  5. Nice work, Mucker!! Something I’ll never check out, so I’ll live this one through you : )

    Boat Drinks!

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  6. I havent seen this one Mark, I really havent heard anyone championing it, and this is no exception. Sounds like Brody gives a good turn, but I’m not really anxious to check it out or anything. 😦

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    • Don’t completely give up on it Fogs. It’s not a bad flick by any means. For the most part it was very good but let itself down toward the end. It’s kinda depressing but excellently acted across the board. If you get the chance, you should maybe take it. 3.5 is still a good rating.

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  7. Nice review man, I don’t think I’ve seen this one.

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  8. I liked the movie mostly because of the performances – the young actresses were very good and so were Brody, Caan, Liu and Hendricks. I agree Cranston was incredibly underused.

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    • The performances were fantastic Sati. I’m a big Brody fan so that goes without saying but the youngsters were great as well. Particulary Sami Gayle as the young prostitute. She’s a name we’ll be seeing more of I think. Thanks for dropping by 🙂

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  9. Some of this really worked, but a lot of it also felt like Kaye just took over total control in the editing-room and didn’t leave much for cohesion. The cast is great, especially Brody, but something could have been a lot better here. Good review Mark.

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    • I agree that it could have been a bit better Dan but I felt that Kaye done quite a decent job on this. I loved his approach to it and he drew out some superb performances. It was the overly dramatic ending that didn’t sit well with me. Thanks man.

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  10. Excellent write up as always Mark. I haven’t seen too many movies by Brody but I’m curious about this one (I realize I say ‘curious’ a lot don’t I, ahah). I also like William Petersen, but too bad he seems underused here.

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    • Thanks Ruth. I hope you do check this out. It was a good little film but a little grim at times. It’s not violent, though, so don’t worry about that.

      Brody is an actor that I admire very much and he didn’t disappoint here either. I also like Petersen but sadly he wasn’t really in it all that much. The same goes for Bryan Cranston.

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  11. I still need to see this but I’m glad Brody found another role worthwhile. His career has been so shaky since his Oscar win.

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    • Brody certainly delivers the goods here Nick. I’ve always enjoyed his performances but few have been as powerful as The Pianist. He can definitely consider this one of his finer moments as well now

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  12. Great review! Brody is awesome.

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    • Thanks Fernando. He is brilliant isn’t he? Shows a great range of emotion.

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      • Yeah. Love all of his performances that I’ve seen, even the one in The Village, which people always criticize 😦 He was highlight of Midnight in Paris as well.

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      • I didn’t like The Village very much but I couldn’t fault Brody in that at all and I totally agree about Midnight In Paris. He was excellent in that. I’m a self confessed fan of Brody’s. Don’t think I’ve ever seen a poor performance from him.

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