The latest provocation from maverick photographer, musician and filmmaker Tony Kaye, Detachment is an incendiary American high-school drama that makes Kaye’s earlier American History X seem almost light-hearted by comparison.
In his best performance since his Oscar-winning turn in Polanski’s The Pianist, Adrien Brody plays disaffected substitute teacher Henry Barthes, whose latest gig is at an inner-city public school in New York that is clearly falling apart. The principal (Marcia Gay Harden) is about to be forced out due to poor test results, the teachers and other staff members are floundering, and the majority of students seem to have no interest in learning. Yet the kids do respond positively to the stoicism and tenacity of Barthes, who refuses to back down in the face of their taunts.
Written by Carl Lund, himself a former teacher, the highly charged conversations and interactions between the students and staff are authentic and forceful. Typically, Kaye pulls out all the stops to deliver his points like knock-out punches aimed at the solar plexus. (Notes by Peter Walsh.)