There’s considerable gap between the level of ambition and intent and the level of success and execution in “Detachment,” the new, disappointing melodrama by enfant terrible Tony Kaye, still best known for “American History X.”
The gifted Adrien Brody, who has made quite a few bad choices after winning the 2002 Best Actor Oscar for Polanski’s “The Pianist,” plays Henry Barthes, a substitute teacher who conveniently avoids any emotional connections by never staying anywhere long enough to form a bond with either his students or colleagues.
We suspect from the very first scene that he’s a “lost soul,” a complex and confused man haunted by a troubled past.
In a rather schematic plotting, Kaye the writer places Henry at a Long Island public school, where an apathetic student body has created a frustrated, burned-out administration.
Unlike Many Hollywood pictures about teachers and education Henry becomes inadvertently and unintentionally a role model to some of his better and more committed students.
The tale centers on one relationship in particular, a bond that Henry establishes and builds a special, intimate bond with a runaway teen. Despite variability in age and background, the two share one basic thing in common: They are both lost souls in their respective milieus.
Gradually, Henry realizes that he’s not alone in a life and death struggle to find beauty in a seemingly vicious, indifferent, valueless, and loveless world.
Despite honorable intention, “Detachment” is preachy, didactic and sanctimonious, a movie replete of monologues and speeches about “important issues,” indicating Kaye’s failure to dramatize the proceedings in an emotionally engaging way.
Kaye wishes to show a contemporary world, populated by individuals who by choice or necessity have become increasingly distant from others, while still feeling a strong need and desire to connect to other humans in a meaningful way and to belong to something larger than their small, self-absorbed worlds.
The impressive supporting cast, including Marcia Gay Harden, Christina Hendricks, William Petersen, Bryan Cranston, Tim Blake Nelson, Lucy Liu, Blythe Danner, James Caan, and newcomers Sami Gayle and Betty Kaye, do what they can with their largely underwritten parts.
Ultimately, “Detachment” suffers from the same problems that inflicted Kaye’s previous work, “Lake of Fire,” which dealt with the controversial issue of abortion, as cinematically effective drama.
In the end, you feel frustrated having seen a disappointing film about serious problems that for the most part feels pretentious, cliché’ ridden, and even shallow.
“Detachment” is Kaye’s cris de Coeur, a movie that works too hard in conveying its message—a plea to civility—but lacks credibility even on its own terms.