Saturday, 30 June 2012

Detachment, dir. Tony Kaye, wr. Carl Lund, st. Adrien Brody, James Caan, Christina Hendricks, Lucy Liu, Marcia Gay Harden, Tim Blake Nelson, Bryan Cranston, Sami Gayle

What Tony Kaye's first film American History X lacked in subtlety, it made up for in sheer brute force in strength of conviction. Detachment follows in much the same vein - a damming indictment against a failing education system and the subsequent fallout that the young endure. Whilst not as explicitly brutal as X, this is nonetheless psychologically exhaustingly relentless, and paints the bleakest of pictures, as the teachers here find their enthusiasm and selflessness no match for the terrible might of disillusioned and aggressive kids. This is a wonderfully cohesive ensemble piece, but it is Brody who gives the most compelling and restrained performance as Henry Barthes, a substitute teacher, at once stoic, fiercely intelligent and moral who's slowly being consumed from the inside due to a childhood trauma. There is some outstanding filmmaking here, not least Rebecca Foster's animated blackboard drawings that are liberally sprinkled throughout the film, and Jade Healy's theatrical approach to production design which gives us, in the film's final moments, the classroom as an abandoned, crumbling wilderness. There are niggles - like Aaron Sorkin is so often accused of, Kaye too is all too transparent in his use of Henry as a mouthpiece with which to vent, and just when you wonder whether this is merely a truncated form of The Wire's 4th season, Isiah "Clay Davis" Whitlock turns up on cue to give an address about juking the stats, in a woefully misguided casting decision. However, like Sorkin's The Newsroom, blunt the socio-political message may be, but it is one that needs to be clarioned from the rooftops in ringing tones; many films aspire to disturb us from apathy, this one truly should.