Detachment

Fri, Jul 13, 2012, 01:00

Directed by Tony Kaye. Starring Adrien Brody, Marcia Gay Harden, Christina Hendricks, William Petersen, Lucy Liu, James Caan, Betty Kaye 15A cert, Cineworld/IFI/ Screen, Dublin, 98 min

TONY KAYE, director of American History X, various commercials and this cluster of derangement, is now in his late 50s, but he still makes films that look like the work of a bright teenager.

This is good and bad. Detachment never coasts. The actors exhibit the energy and occasionally panic you’d expect from runners before the bulls at Pamplona. No scene is allowed to peter out when an explosive exit is possible.

Unfortunately, all this raw energy fast becomes utterly exhausting. This is a film composed entirely of emotional peaks, with no lulls to set those surges in relief. And Kaye has cast just the right actors – big, big players – to push that succession of climaxes towards interstellar overdrive.

Watch James Caan as, warning a student away from promiscuity, he shows her a photograph of an infected vagina. Endure Adrien Brody as he tries to save a prostitute from herself. Observe school principal Marcia Gay Harden, nobody’s notion of a shrinking violet, as – for no good reason – she actually rolls around on the floor while addressing the school via the intercom. Everybody seems to be playing in his or her own avant-garde one- person show.

And yet. Detachment has such original energy and is so infused with righteous anger that it proves hard to dismiss. What we have here, essentially, is the Dustin Hoffman episode of The Simpsons directed by somebody who hasn’t yet learnt the meaning of restraint.

Brody plays a substitute teacher sent to a school that, though tough, tough, tough, still manages to accommodate teachers played, with no dressing down or roughing up, by such unlikely scrappers as Christina Hendricks and Lucy Liu.

The teacher does his best to connect with the students, but most remain aloof, withdrawn and hostile. Some connection is made with a bright, bullied outsider who wants to become an artist (Betty Kaye, the director’s daughter).

Everybody is way over the top. The denouement is straight out of Edgar Allen Poe (a favourite of the protagonist). The structure is – as Kaye himself acknowledges – about as ordered as that of a Jackson Pollock action painting.

There lies Detachment’s uncomfortable charm. We need creative madmen in the cinema.