Hank’s Recommendations 10/09/12

DETACHMENT — This powerful film about a good teacher who is compelled to be a substitute so he won’t have to commit doesn’t offer easy answers to the problems that plague inner city schools. If you’re looking for answers, a la STAND AND DELIVER  or  LEAN ON ME, you’ll have to look deeper, but you will find some in this tough, uncompromising film. I suspect it’s the film’s integrity—along with its strong writing—that attracted Adrian Brody, Marcia Gay Harden, James Caan, Lucy Liu, Blythe Danner, William Peterson and Bryan Cranston to sign up for this low budget, independent movie.

And you should too.

Henry Barthes (Adrian Brody), himself the product of a troubled past, makes the substitute circuit among city schools, staying long enough to inspire the students and then cutting out. No long-term relationships for him. But then, despite chronic resistance, he does becomes involved with three women—an overweight student with fiercely budding artistic ambitions (Betty Kaye), a young, annoyingly insistent street hustler (Sami Gayle), and a lonely fellow teacher (Christina Hendricks, from Mad Men) who awaken Henry to the scary prospect of change.

Especially notable among this great cast is James Caan, delivering a cleverly sarcastic performance in confronting the endemic hostility of students, a teacher trying to ride the wave of a career while fending off the pressures of an untenable vocational situation. Everyone acquits themselves well. Brody, in particular, is the perfect center of the film. An Oscar winner for THE PIANIST, here he is smart and tragic, sympathetic and detached. He draws you in to both his and the schools’ dilemma.

Directed by Tony Kaye, who did another tough, uncompromising film (Edward Norton’s debut) called AMERICAN HISTORY X that’s had a cult following and a very popular history in our store, this latest film is also a no holds barred film without the consoling streamlining of mainstream films. But it certainly has good writing and acting and honesty in its corner. It’s hardly detached from the problems that infest our schools.  And what it ultimately suggests as a solution to Henry Barthes’ issues also pertains to the change that’s required in our schools. In fact, that suggestion pertains to all of us. Who should watch this movie.