Tuesday, March 6, 2012


“Detachment” is be the best, most accurate movie title I’ve seen in quite some time, because that is precisely what Tony Kaye’s new narrative feature is – detached.

It’s disconnected, from its audience, from its actors, from itself; it’s aloof, seemingly without purpose and/or without the care of purpose. It is a discombobulated mess with clunky direction, a weak script, flawless cinematography and dynamic acting.

In the film, Adrien Brody plays a New York City substitute teacher who is prone to taking extended jobs, just enough time to reform a troubled class and split before he gets attached to the school or his students.  He comes in, makes a difference, then gets out before he actually starts to give a damn.

We’ve seen this movie hundreds of times, the radical-teacher-making-a-difference-in-the-ghetto-school movie. The students learn respect, the teachers learn humility, and all’s well that ends well. But because this formula is getting as old as cops vs. robbers, filmmakers are forced to put a fresh spin on it in order to make their films unique. In Kaye’s vision, that spin manifests itself with sexually explicit dialogue, documentary-esque interviews, equal use of black & white and color, and, most importantly, an unwavering bleakness.

It should work, because no one knows bleak better than Tony Kaye, the man responsible for the marvelous American History X, and the flawless abortion documentary Lake of Fire. But Detachment, as it were, forces the shittiness of its characters’ lives down our throats to the point that we’d rather stop breathing than keep watching.  This isn’t to say the movie is too graphic to handle (quite the contrary, in fact), it’s just too much for the sake of being too much.

For example, midway through the film, Brody’s character has invited a teenage prostitute (she can’t be older than 14) to live with him. And although he has no interest in her sexually, the first night she stays over, he gets down on his knees, spreads her legs open, looks up her skirt and calmly asks if she’s, “been raped recently.” She coolly replies no, and then they finish their conversation.
And that’s how most of the scenes in Detachment play out: awkwardly written exchanges sandwiched between it’s-raw-so-it-must-be-real scene development. This, mind you, is not the fault of any of the actors involved. Including Brody, Christina Hendricks, Lucy Lui, Blythe Danner, James Caan, Marcia Gay Harden, William Peterson and more, all contribute fine performances. It’s a shame a cast like this wasn’t given better material to work with.

These kinds of films are too prevalent to stand out on their own, so I give Kaye credit for trying something new. But of recent memory, I can recall only one film in which the execution of a teacher overcoming the odds was inventive, yet wildly riveting. That would be Laurent Cantet’s The Class from 2008. You’re far better off hunting that down than Kaye’s misfire. D


  1. Well, this is unfortunate. I've heard it's a bit of a mess - still rather interesting.

    It's playing On Demand ... and the guy made "American History X" ... so I have to check this out.

    Hopefully I find the film more rewarding than you Alex.

  2. Well, I agree that a weakness is the story has been done before, and yes, the dialogue despite the fine acting was a bit shoddy in places.
    That said, I give the film extra points for being very powerful and bringing us close to the suffering, tough to shake from my memory.
    Also the visual style I found to be quite original.
    So a D is a little unkind in my mind, since it left such a mark on me.
    I think we will have to agree to disagree on this one. To each his own! ( :

  3. @Sam Fragoso I watched it On Demand over the weekend, so yeah, check it out. I really do hope you get more out of it than me.

  4. @Chris Hey fair enough man. Aside from the acting and cinematography (which are never enough to make a film great, to me), I thought it was rather dull and shocking for the sake of being shocking. Didn't stay with me at all, but, again, I'm glad it had an emotional impact on you.

  5. @Evan I don't think Half Nelson really has anything whatsoever to do with his abilities as a teacher. It's not the teacher-reforming-the-kids kind of movie. It is a great movie, but a slightly different genre that Detachment.

  6. Woah that one part you described sounds nasty! I wish Hendricks would make better movie btw than doing films like this and taking pictures of herself in the bathroom.

  7. @Sati. Ha, yeah seriously. I enjoyed her very brief role in Drive, but really, anyone could've done that. I'm still wondering if she has the chops outside of her Mad Men character.

  8. I really hope so. She is just a class act and in Mad Men she shows such a variety of emotions. I wish she does more good productions, we really need actual women with curves being movie stars :)

  9. @Sati. Completely agree. Great female roles are far too sparse.

  10. Bryan Cranston talks about what happened to the screenplay.


    1. I don't know who that guy is, but he comes across as an arrogant douche in that interview. The director is King on films, not the writer. It took me a good minute of memory-searching to even recall his role; he's presumably just pissed he was edited down.

      And for what it's worth, I very much enjoyed the film. It was a raw, naked mess of emotions that touched on some intriguing themes, and the performances were all spiffy.

    2. Yeah Cranston doesn't seem like a guy who's afraid to voice his opinion. I do know that Kaye has had his fair share of troubles with his cast and crew before, but either way, it's cool that you dug his vision.

  11. @Anonymous Wow, that's really interesting. I can't say I'm very surprised though, Kaye caused similar problems to his American History X script. Thanks for the link!

  12. I thought youd like the movie. I dont know why :(