Detachment tells the story of a substitute teacher, Henry Barthes (Adrien Body), who takes a month long assignment at a failing school in dire need of help. While trying to help the students who are less than appreciative of his presence, Henry meets Erica (Sami Gayle), a young girl living on the street and selling her body whom he decides to take in and take care for.
Directed by Tony Kaye (American History X), this is a bold and brave film with superb performances, particularly from Brody as the teacher trying his best to do what he can for the students and others while fighting back the disillusionment and apathy around him.
It’s simply an added bonus that we have such an amazing cast supporting Brody. The likes of Marcia Gay Harden, Christina Hendricks, James Caan, Lucy Liu, Tim Blake Nelson, Bryan Cranston, Blythe Danner and William Petersen are all great but importantly they act as an ensemble, the film dipping into the problems of their characters intermittently but thankfully never stealing the spotlight from Brody. He is better than he’s been for a long time and gives one of the best performances of the year so far. This is the actor we all saw in The Pianist and here’s hoping he chooses more roles of this calibre to show off his acting ability.
The premise of the film isn’t exactly the most original one in the world but Detachment sets itself apart, much like Ryan Fleck’s Half Nelson did, by lacking the trite cliches found in many of those films and by being uncompromising, making its points in forceful yet intelligent ways. It had the danger to be preachy but Kaye and first time screenwriter Carl Lund sidestep that pitfall.
It’s a film of realism in what it’s trying to say about society, school, life prospects and youth disillusionment and is not exactly an easy watch, but the tough scenes serve an absolute purpose. Kaye finds inventive ways to explore this otherwise cliched story, using a confessional structure which partly serves as narration, increasingly revealing flashbacks and effective intercutting of still photographs.
An extremely well put together piece of work that’s compelling in the moment but also makes you think, Detachment is an affecting and haunting film in the best of ways. It has important things to say and says them in a thought-provoking, relatable manner. Inherently grim though it is it’s also an oddly hopeful film, helped by a wonderful score by The Newton Brothers, achieving that difficult balance with great aplomb. Mightily impressive stuff.
Detachment is released in UK cinemas on July 13th.