Written by Carl Lund
Directed by Tony Kaye
Starring Adrien Brody, Marcia Gay Harden and Christina Hendricks
Henry Barthes: That bag is empty. It has no feelings. You can’t hurt it. I’m just like that bag.
I don’t know what any of us ever did to piss Tony Kaye off but I’m pretty sure that whatever it was, it did not warrant DETACHMENT as retaliation. Kaye’s third feature film is a relentlessly bleak look at the American education system, designed to open the eyes of its viewers to a situation they are already well aware of, while simultaneously driving those same eyes mad with some of the most scattered, unfocused and plainly amateurish filmmaking I’ve seen from a supposed auteur.
Adrien Brody, who also executive produced this insult of a film, stars as Henry Barthes, a professional substitute teacher who takes the bus every day to work like a poor slob and feels nothing anymore as he walks morosely through life. To be clear, life according to Kaye, is not worth feeling anything for. In Kaye’s universe, every student is either a bully or a thug or a prostitute or a budding sociopath or just plain uninterested in learning. There is no hope to find in the halls of this school. Even the teachers are either on happy pills or being spit on or so far gone that they simply laugh off the loss of their students when they kill each other. I have nothing against bleak and hopeless. There are situations out there that fit the bill. When these very harsh realities are exaggerated to such extremity to prove a point, it presumes a lack of intelligence on the part of the viewer. We do not need to go to the far, painful end of the spectrum to understand the urgency of this problem.
Perhaps it would all be easier to digest if Kaye trusted himself more as a filmmaker. His biggest success to date is AMERICAN HISTORY X, a film he infamously wanted his name removed from but that is also infinitely better than DETACHMENT. Between the poor quality of the video camera / cinema verite aesthetic and the constant need to cut up scenes with intensely hideous close-ups and the random inserts of chalk drawings to accentuate his already obvious intentions, its a wonder how Kaye was able to get people like James Caan, Lucy Liu or Bryan Cranston to sign on to the project. I’m sure none of them knew going in that they would end up making such fools of themselves. Because aside from how clear it is that Kaye lacks confidence as filmmaker, DETACHMENT proves beyond a doubt that he doesn’t understand how people connect to each other or the world around them.