Detachment Review

Do you remember your favourite teacher?

Mine was this photography dude who tried to convince everyone in the class that any tall, pointy image in a photo, or out of it come to that, was making a less than subtle reference to a man’s special pointy area.

Apart from this invasive phallic agenda though, this guy stood out because of the passion he brought to his classes; setting him in stark contrast to every other teacher who taught me at university, most of whom had clearly given up on their vocation.

If they had ever wanted it in the first place.

So the subject matter of Detachment, the effect teachers have on the young people they come into contact with, is something that’s pretty easy to identify with.

Beginning with a montage of black and white talking head shots of some real teachers, we’re swiftly shown a far more famous face as the familiar features of Adrian Brody is introduced as the final teacher to have their say.

This is Henry Barthes, a substitute teacher who’s about to start another of his short term contracts in one of the troubled schools he frequently finds himself parachuted in to.

Like most teachers, Barthes started off in this gig because he wanted to make a difference in this world.

But the stark reality of trying to teach kids whose own parents show no interest in doing the same has worn down Barthes’ idealism.

Not to mention his own family problems he’s juggling with this life.

So Barthes is happy to play the substitute; going from place to place to try and genuinely connect with his pupils before moving onto the next one.

While there’s a sort of nobility to this, the reality is Barthes doesn’t really want any emotional attachments in his currently hollow existence.

But when he meets a young girl outside of his school life, who’s clearly in need of someone to be a teacher in her life, Barthes can’t turn her away.

And as his detached mask of self-preservation starts to slip, we get to see the real reason why Barthes is so very vacant.

Detachment is the new film from director Tony Kaye, the man behind the excellent American History X.

And while they share a central theme of the role adults can play in helping to educate the next generation, the comparisons end there.

There’s a lot of good, individual things about Detachment.

As ever, Adrian Brody is fantastically believable in his role; this time as the emotionally unavailable Henry Barthes who’s been running away from attachments ever since he was a child.

James Caan, Christina Hendricks and Lucy Liu amongst others make up the impressive supporting cast with nothing but minor roles for each, as it’s a young actress by the name of Sami Gayle who has the most screen time with Brody.

With her choir boy’s haircut and eyes as big as saucers, Gayle seems impossibly young and vulnerable as Erica; the young girl taken in by Brody’s Barthes.

Yet for all the good acting on show, mixed in with some cleverly animated cut away’s on a teacher’s blackboard, these never really add up to more than the sum of its parts.

There are so many strands to Detachment, as is needed to tell the tale that modern teachers face in an increasingly challenging environment, but these don’t really go anywhere nor are brought together to form a satisfying conclusion.

Maybe that’s the point of Detachment, that there is no happy ending or cinematic cure for this particular disease.

Jonathan Campbell

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Dates ‘n stuff

July 2012