‘Detachment’ Review: A Bleak, Yet Powerful, Examination of Human Existence

Photo Credit: http://www.cultureblues.com/2011/05/tribeca-2011-detachment/

For most of its run time, Detachment plays just one emotional note: sadness. This is nothing like your typical movie about a new teacher coming in to inspire downtrodden students. The film looks at the darker reality of this mess, while managing to make strong statements about all of our existences.

First and foremost, however, Detachment is an incredibly depressing film. Just seconds after the film starts we are given a quote from Albert Camus that sets the tone for what is to come. From then on, the film doesn’t let up until the very end. Detachment takes the broken parts of all of our lives and gently places them in the education system of America. Multiple scenes reference the controversial law No Child Left Behind as a way of showing that no one is really trying because there is always someone below them that everyone else has to wait for, which leaves just a mess of people who know no consequences to their actions.

It’s sad realizing that this is an allegory to the real world and that this fact will never change. Ironically, that is also my only problem with Detachment–the tone struck in the first few scenes never really changes or evolves. I felt just as depressed when the film ended as I did just after the tone had been established, if not more so. In some ways, this makes the message hit home just that much harder, but it also leaves you feeling empty and hopeless without really learning anything.

But that is not to say that Detachment is not a great film, because it is. The story is engaging mostly because of the fantastic performances that ground this profound premise. Adrien Brody is mesmerizing as a substitute teacher who both cares too much and too little. It is one of the best, and perhaps most honest, performances of his career and serves as a great reminder of why big name directors keep putting him in their movies. Another standout performance comes from newcomer Sami Gayle, who plays a young prostitute who just happens to run into Brody’s character enough for him to take notice. Their friendship is wonderfully played out on screen and actually proves to be the only solace we get by the film’s end.

The rest of the cast is made up of great actors who get too little screen time to truly express their talents. Christina Hendricks, Marcia Gay Harden, Lucy Liu, Blythe Danner, and Bryan Cranston all have small roles that are not quite as fleshed out as they could be. We do however get a particularly jovial performance from James Caan, who gives the only real comic relief in the movie. We also have Tim Blake Nelson, who gives a pretty heartbreaking, yet subtle performance.

When it comes down to it, Detachment is a fantastic film featuring an unforgettable performance from Adrien Brody. Some may believe that it is too dismal to actually say anything substantial, but perhaps we are too attached to our happy endings and neat little bows that movies give us before the end credits roll. Perhaps we need more films like Detachment to show us the grim reality we live in. Grade: B+

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