After his skinhead drama American History X (1998), director Tony Kaye introduces us to even more depression – Detachment (2011). Adrien Brody stars as Henry Barthes – a talented teacher with the gift for befriending even the most difficult students. Henry’s life decision is not to take advantage of this talent, however – he chooses instead to become the substitute teacher and thus avoid any risk of getting attached to the pupils or the educators in his workplace. We meet him when he gets a job in a public school, full of unhappy teachers and ignorant kids. The story has a bit of a ‘gangstas paradise’ feel to it – indifferent, often aggressive youth, a frustrated school administration and a hero educator who is loved by many and respected by everyone. Except that Brody is not Michelle Pfeiffer and he doesn’t get to save the world. There is no bright side to this movie.
Basically, it aims to show us that everyone has problems, everyone is burnt–out and on the verge of depression. Everyone in Detachment, anyway. Parents don’t care about their kids, kids don’t care about their peers or their future, adults all have work or marital issues. And then there is a teenage prostitute met by Mr Barthes on the bus, who represents his metaphor for all that is wrong in the world. The story of an under-age prostitute coming to live with the teacher in his apartment is a bit disturbing and it makes us doubt his judgment – it doesn’t really help the character’s image, but that’s OK too, because no one said that he had to be perfect.
Brody is a talented actor, which is made very obvious by this movie. Too bad that his skills are only used in one key, namely to show how sad, how very, very, sad his character is. The range of emotions expressed by Brody varies from really depressed to just unhappy. We get it – world is not necessarily a happy place , but too much unhappiness in one film seems just a touch pretentious.
I remember I cried like a baby at American History X – a movie with genuine emotion. I didn’t cry at Detachment. Instead I found it a touch artificial and pretentious, and its form slightly annoying (to-camera animation, blurred images and other arty effects). It could be a good movie played brilliantly, if it wasn’t for the director’s desperate attempt to moralise and teach us life lessons.