MOVIE REVIEWS |
EDITORIALS | EVENTS |
EXAMINER.COM FILM ARTICLES
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Connecting To The Disconnection In Today's World
Adrien Brody as Henry Barthes in Tony Kaye's docudrama "Detachment".
Omar P.L. Moore/PopcornReel.com
Tuesday, March 27,
Two quotes bookend Tony Kaye's docudrama "Detachment", now playing in
select cities in the U.S. One is from Albert Camus, the other is from
Edgar Allan Poe. Both inform what has been happening throughout Mr. Kaye's
film, billed as "a Tony Kaye talkie", full of volatility, fragility and anger on
many sides. Henry Barthes (Adrien Brody) is a substitute teacher in an
unnamed "inner-city" New York City high school. Henry cares, or used to
care, about people, about himself, yet he is compassionate but full of anguish
Henry, who lives alone, takes in an abused young prostitute, Erica (Sami Gayle),
yet this is perhaps done more to counteract and salve his own sense of inadequacy, frustration and
anger about life than out of any gesture of altruism. Henry teaches in a fruitless effort to change the hearts of
nonchalant kids in a school where teachers are as likely to meltdown as
students. There's a lame-duck principal (Marcia Gay Harden) who has failed
to boost the school's abysmal student test performance. She's depressed.
The despair is universal and "Detachment" often makes the points Henry discusses
redundant. "We are all suffering from pain, and feeling the weight of the
world on our shoulders," is the film's basic refrain, which gets repeated in
golden sunshiny confessionals of clarity that Henry gives, in close-up,
Some of the film's points are trenchant and ham-fisted yet I believe Mr. Kaye is
thoroughly sincere. He wants us to think about what we as young and old
people in today's world are running away from. Is it our past? Our
family? Our failure as a species? Ourselves? Our pain? All of these?
Or something else? Something more? Late on a character intones
about "solutions to temporary problems" and implications resonate. The
denouement we see in "Detachment" isn't unexpected; this angry
hell boat of a film has previewed it in many
flashbacks and spliced edits. Family and its breaking apart is at heart of
"Detachment". Characters wax on about the lack of parents at the
parent-teacher meetings at the school. The parents are as angry as their
children are, and the fragmented film attempts to dissect the anger, especially
from the students, one of whom mutilates a cat (it is unseen but strongly
So where does Henry's anger come from? The answer is most likely
in his own family background, which has seen its share of tragedy. We are
offered glimpses of Henry's back story, upbringing, family destabilization and
dysfunction by Mr. Kaye, whose "Detachment" is shot in Super 8mm, lending
raw, grainy and gritty
texture to its carnival of sorrow. Though written by Carl Lund, the drama
operates as the director's manifesto. Mr. Kaye, who has had a lot on his
mind and a lot of anger (and rightfully so) at the way the original edition of
his last major film, "American History X" (1998), was truncated for theatrical release
by the now-defunct New Line Cinema, unleashes it all in a film that feels much
closer to his vision and probing spirit. ("Detachment" is an independent
film being released in roughly a dozen or so venues for its entire U.S.
theatrical run, with New York City and Los Angeles as the only major
metropolitan big cities included.)
As a structured enterprise "Detachment" is clever, presenting its own
diametrically opposed devices (also exhibited during one of Henry's school
lessons), which plays like the absurdist theory of Mr. Camus and resembles parts
of the author's The Stranger. More significantly, the film's
strong connection to disconnection is an anthem; themes of family unrest,
instability and fracture penetrate, recurring throughout the film.
"Detachment" represents tragicomedy at its height and its most ridiculous.
Pure mad theater, lurid, darkly comic and partly outrageous, "Detachment"
creates dissonance and resonance at the same time. It denies itself the
sole pleasure of being cynical while offering hope and promptly spitting in its
face, mocking it openly, with fish-eye close-ups that imitate campy horror.
The film's other focus, or Henry's other cause célèbre besides Erica, is lonely
student and photographer Meredith (Betty Kaye), who observes Henry and his
sadness. Keeping with the film's sense of irony and complexity Meredith's
observation is actually a projection of her own sadness and despair.
Emotionally abused at home, no one listens to her, except Henry, yet Henry
himself rejects, even despises, his "role" as a savior. He'd be the first
to say, in Charles Barkley parlance, that "I am not a role model."
Premiered at last year's Tribeca Film Festival, "Detachment" plays as a satire on goody-two-shoes teachers looking to make a
difference; it is refreshingly honest and shrill, presenting self-centered
teachers who question their own efforts. Everyone in "Detachment" is fully
human, living breathing contradictions, and ill at ease with their own
existence, which is the film's battering ram.
The weakest and most unnecessary part of "Detachment" are black and white
sequences that open the film, with what are apparently real-life school teachers
some of whom didn't expect to fall into that line of work. These extreme
close-ups are part of Mr. Kaye's theme of disconnection and faltering idealism
that reinforce the film's title, but the sense of intimacy they are meant to
convey pales in comparison to the intimacy of the fictional stories on display,
even if they are occasionally interrupted by blackboard animation, some of which
grows tiresome and repetitive, hitting the same points over and over again.
That said, Adrien Brody does possibly the best work of his film career as Henry,
utilizing comic and tragic masks to fine effect as a deeply depressed and
disillusioned yet hopeful teacher. Henry is so clearly resigned to a bleak
outcome that when sad things happen he flaunts a noblesse oblige attitude.
"It's okay. It's okay. It's okay to let go." Mr. Brody makes
these utterances at once oddly comic and bleak even if his Henry means every
word of them. (Note: William Petersen is in this film, and I still don't
know if I saw him on screen. Like Albert Brooks in "Drive", I couldn't
recognize who he was. And unlike that film, I still don't know that I even
saw or recognized him.)
For all its own wildness and frenzied application "Detachment" is a must-see
solely for Mr. Brody. While there are good ensemble performances (Ms.
Gayle and particularly Lucy Liu, James Caan and Tim Blake Nelson as teachers
who've seen a little bit more than too much both at home and at school,) the
lead actor puts on a great balancing act. Henry is the absurd creation
resulting from the school's chaos but that crumbling house reflects the unstable
foundations of his family background, which he had long before he visited.
Is the school of chaos some kind of reconciling for Henry? Is the school a
kindred spirit or amplified character that affirms Henry's own sense of
loneliness, an isolation met elsewhere by those he teaches and the colleagues he butts heads
with? Mr. Brody deftly carries the burden of Henry, supplying him with
equanimity and a jarring disharmony, even in the film's nihilistic and
catastrophic bursts. (Note: Eagle-eyed viewers will notice the MPAA logo
in the end credits, with the film falsely and playfully registered as No.
999999, creating its own detachment. The number of films registered is
about 49000 or so.)
Mr. Brody, who won an Oscar in 2003 for "The Pianist", bores holes through the
screen here with sad eyes and a big heart swelling with empathy and emptiness.
In "Detachment" he paints a full, palpable portrait of a troubled man wrestling
with existential angst and his relationship to the crazy world that spins out of
control around him. He spins with it but he tries to get off before it's
"These kids need something, but they don't need me," Henry says in the film's
final half hour. Henry is half-right -- the kids need Henry's help, not
his anger or pity.
With: Christina Hendricks, Blythe Danner, Bryan Cranston, Louis Zorich, Isiah
"Detachment" is not rated by the Motion Picture Association Of America
but it contains some disturbing images including a close-up of a diseased
vagina, sexual content, nudity, strong
language, intense moments and thematic issues. The film's running time is one hour and
COPYRIGHT 2012. POPCORNREEL.COM. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
MOVIE REVIEWS |
EDITORIALS | EVENTS |
| PHOTOS |
EXAMINER.COM FILM ARTICLES