DETACHMENT shows us how very far we haven’t come since Blackboard Jungle. This 2012 drama about teachers and their sometimes impossible charges is easily the most brutally downbeat of all that graduated before it—Stand and Deliver, Dangerous Minds, Lean On Me, et.al.
Adrien Brody is a perfect choice in the lead, as a school-hopping substitute, doing a month-long gig at a high school teetering on the brink. No phony salvation here, with just occasional moments of relief from Carl Lund’s acid screenplay , directed in-your-face-style by Tony Kaye. The uber-controversial director apparently irritated numerous cast members (cue Bryan Cranston), and it does get a bit over-intense at times (at times!?).
Script is very good, though, as are all the actors in support—James Caan, Marcia Gay Harden, Christina Hendricks, Tim Blake Nelson, Lucy Liu, Blythe Danner, William Peterson. Excellent, rending work from Sami Gayle as a teenage prostitute who Brody tries to help on the side, when he’s not enduring the roiling or numbed student body, their unhelpful parents and his ailing father. Brody’s always worth watching, whether he’s dodging a giant ape (King Kong), fighting for a union (Bread and Roses) or suggesting Salvador Dali (Midnight In Paris), but his compassionate, no-bull job in this little film might be his best work since The Pianist.
It’s overloaded with misery (every single character), but the acting is so good, and the pace so intense that it holds you. Betty Kaye, the director’s daughter, has a good part as a friendless, tragedy-bound youngster. Reviews were mixed and the film made a paltry $1,480,000. 100 blistering minutes, with Louis Zorich, Isiah Whitlock Jr. and another hot young actress to watch for more from, Renee Felice Smith.