The Movie Waffler New Release Review - Detachment | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - Detachment

Directed by: Tony Kaye
Starring: Adrien Brody, Sami Gayle, Christina Hendricks, Marcia Gay Harden, James Caan, Lucy Liu, William Petersen, Tim Blake Nelson, Blythe Danner, Bryan Cranston 

Substitute teacher Brody's desire to live a life of emotional isolation is scuppered by the needs of his dying grandfather, a teenage prostitute and a bullied student.
As someone in possession of a larger than average nose, I've always felt a kinship with Brody yet never been fully convinced by him as an actor. With his quietly brilliant turn here as a man whose existential crisis keeps being interrupted by reality he's finally convinced me. This could be the best leading male performance of the year. His constant hang dog looks make him ideally cast for this part. When he tells a confrontational student his words can't hurt him because he feels no emotions we fully believe him.
The story of a substitute teacher being sent to a school whose pupils have been written off has been done to death by now. We've seen the inspirational teacher plotline of "Dangerous Minds" and "To Sir, With Love" and the teacher versus students scenario of "Blackboard Jungle" and "187". Kaye gives us a fresh take, his students are unruly and threatening but Brody is indifferent to them. It's this indifference that ultimately leads him to bond with his pupils as like him, they are struggling to connect with the world around them.
Despite his outwardly cold facade, Brody is racked by a sense of responsibility to others. He visits his grandfather in hospital every day despite implications that the man's abuse lead to the suicide of Brody's mother. The same impulse leads to him taking a teenage prostitute into his care, brilliantly played by Judy Garland lookalike Gayle. Finally encountering someone who seems to genuinely care for her, she falls for him but it's a bond Brody is uncomfortable sharing. Also futilely seeking his affection is Betty Kaye (daughter of the director?), an overweight and emotionally vulnerable student who finds kinship with Brody's sad expression. These two storylines will break the heart of the most thick skinned of viewers.
The film is by no means perfect and would benefit from a much subtler approach than Kaye seems capable of but it's certainly affecting. At times acutely depressing, pretentious and anger-inducing, it eventually becomes an uplifting tale with a message that we may not always want people in our lives but ultimately we need them.
Detachment (2011) on IMDb 7.7/10