Adrien Brody stars as a substitute teacher in Detachment. (Handout)
Detachment is a fantastic mish-mash about contemporary isolation as viewed in a large, impersonal public school.
Adrien Brody stars as Henry, a substitute teacher who has worked hard to keep himself emotionally open to helping others, closed-off though he may be. Some of his story is told in flashback, some he narrates directly to the camera, and some unfolds in the classroom. Henry befriends a student who is a brilliant artist but a social outcast (Betty Kaye, daughter of the director), helps a young prostitute (Sami Gayle), encourages the usual misfits and outcasts among his students and does his best to fit in with the other teachers. (The teachers are played by Tim Blake Nelson, James Caan, Christina Hendricks and Blythe Danner, and Marcia Gay Harden is the principal of the school.) The school where they are work hums with rejection, dejection, potential violence and sexual tension.
On his own time, Henry visits his elderly grandfather and thinks about his dead, self-destructive mother. Despite Henry's best efforts, bad things happen to some of the other characters, and not really in a subtle way.
Detachment is arty, infuriating and sometimes brilliant, but it's a film that doesn't seem to trust you to be paying attention. Matters also tend to get bogged down in murky, repetitive flashback, too, but it's tough not to become engaged by the story and its bleak picture of a diminished school system and disenfranchised youth.
And the performances are generally a pleasant surprise.
Detachment won the Critics Award at the 2011 Deauville Film Festival.
Filmmaker Tony Kaye also directed American History X and Lake of Fire.