Since ‘American History X’ came out to acclaim in 1998, it’s director, Tony Kaye has maintained a fairly low profile, his follow-up was the outstanding but little seen black and white abortion documentary ‘Lake of Fire’ in 2006, and he had apparently been working on another feature film called ‘Black Water Transit’ but it has yet to see the light of day. Now, finally, his next complete feature film has been released, a similarly hard hitting drama; ‘Detachment’.
Adrien Brody plays a substitute teacher who takes a month long assignment at an American high school in what could be described as a ‘bad neighbourhood’. The conditions the teachers are under are appalling, they are verbally abused, threatened with violence, have no support from the parents and face legal action if they so much as raise one finger to comfort a suicidally depressed pupil.
This isn’t going to be some inspirational teacher story, but it is more of a character study than simply a critique of the American high school educational system.
Brody’s character is haunted by his troubled childhood and forced to care for his dying grandfather. He lives alone in a small apartment and doesn’t want to form ties with anyone, hence his choosing to sub. He almost reaches breaking point though, when the sight of a clearly underage prostitute servicing a violent client on a public bus causes him to weep. After a brief exchange, he subsequently decides to offer his home to the girl.
Never quite becoming the A-lister he could have off ‘The Pianist’s Oscar success, Brody delivers an astonishing performance here which anchors the film throughout. The film is also populated with a large supporting cast, portrayed mostly by recognisable actors of a variety of ages, showing the different effects working in such an environment has on people, though a few barely get a look in (Bryan Cranston and William Petersen probably have fewer than five minutes between them).
Kaye does employ some flashy editing techniques, including an animated chalkboard, in sharp contrast to the real-life drama, but it’s all fascinating, harrowing stuff. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another 14-odd years for another Tony Kaye-directed drama.