Loneliness,betrayal and regret are all themes in this hard hitting drama.
Adrien Brody as Henry Barthes in Detachment
There have been many feature films that examine the very different world that exists in the hallowed halls of high schools but few are as blunt and hard hitting as Detachment. British director Tony Kaye, best known for his drama American History X (1998) knows exactly what it takes to shock and make audiences pay attention and his latest release proves it.
Detachment follows the life of Henry Barthes (Adrien Brody, The Pianist), a teacher who has a gift for connecting with his students but only takes positions as a substitute to avoid staying anywhere long enough to establish any real relationship. When a new assignment places Henry at a sinking public school he is surrounded by people who have more in common with him than he would like to admit and his loner’s existence begins to fall apart. In an extremely powerful and gripping performance Brody plays a suffering hero, who like many other characters are tortured by memories from their past. Blurry flashbacks from his childhood reveal Henry is still a boy recovering from psychological scars left by his mother’s death.
Henry’s walls begin to break after taking in a teenager named Erika (Sami Gayle) who has been living on the streets and working as a prostitute. With his help Erika soon transforms from an extremely troubled and erratic runaway to an adoptive daughter who takes care of Henry.
The movie revolves around a unique set of characters all living on the edge of some form of breakdown. There is the Dr. Parker (Lucy Liu, Charlie’s Angels), the frustrated guidance counsellor who cracks under pressure and yells at a student, Principal Dearden (Marica Gay Harden, Mystic River) who is about to be fired due to low test scores and a talented yet tormented student named Meredith (Betty Kaye).
These characters’ stories seemed crammed into the narrative, yet in the confines of the high school are allowed to converge. They flow past each other, yet their struggle and pain is rarely shared. The themes of loneliness and neglect are powerful and unavoidable, with no pause for reflection. While the movie’s didactic style does come across, it’s in your face nature may seem overly righteous and might even leave some audience members feeling a little depressed.
The film also includes a continuous stream of artistic embellishment which provide welcome breaks in the narrative structure. The blackboard and chalk sketches of classrooms and nooses also provide visual diversity from the bleak urban infrastructure that dominates the setting. Kaye’s use of literature, art, photography and to camera pieces by main character Henry adds more depth and an additional layer to the story.
Strings of abandonment and betrayal holds up the characters’ imposed detachment to the world as well as each other. While it may be hard for some to watch, Detachment deals themes deserving of a feature film. Adrien Brody’s performance is consuming and will definitely move audiences.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Director: Tony Kaye
Screenplay: Carl Lund
Duration: 94 minutes
DVD and Digital HD Release: 3 January 2014