Friday, March 30, 2012
Another bad-boy poseur, Tony Kaye of "American History X" fame, returns to theaters with the histrionic and ham-handed "Detachment," starring Adrien Brody as substitute teacher Henry Barthes (pronounced "Barth"; to show how disconnected this movie is from reality, not once does a kid call him Mr. Barf). Marcia Gay Harden plays the principal who hires Henry, saying... he "comes highly recommended as the best sub on the call list" - which he drolly deflects as a dubious compliment.
Kaye actually managed to put together a terrific cast that also includes James Caan, Bryan Cranston, Blythe Danner, Christina Hendricks, Lucy Liu, Tim Blake Nelson and William Petersen, but must have cut most of their scenes because they combine for about ten minutes of screen time. Cranston, among others, has distanced himself from the picture, decrying Kaye's infidelity to Carl Lund's screenplay. Kaye is incapable of trusting in the quality of the writing; he'll always feel compelled to bludgeon subtlety and nuance aside with look-at-me effects and bombastic speechifying.
In the few quiet moments, there's actually some nice work by Brody and Sami Gayle as a student without self-esteem who sells her body for money and uses sex as an anesthetic. A blurb in the trailer calls this Brody's best performance since "The Pianist," but I think it's actually his best since Ken Loach's "Bread & Roses" (of course, I hated "The Pianist"). He brings intelligence and shading to a range of emotions: wry resignation, kindness and empathy, carefully suppressed despair.
Unfortunately, the picture around him is an issue-movie parade of horribles, a series of not-credible incidents and accidents in which nobody quite behaves the way real teachers and students do. Those who would treat each other with a modicum of respect don't, and vice versa. Kaye's points about the contemporary public education system are inane and have been made better elsewhere (cf. "Waiting for Superman").