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Genre Drama

Detachment is a depressing yet inspiring commentary and indictment on society's propensity to tune out of life. Spiraling debt, unemployment, threats to national and personal safety... we're probably a lot closer to the vision of The Matrix than we would have imagined. As we expend our energy keeping up in the rat race, we're confronted with harsh realities, ones that are easier to forget by switching off and retreating within ourselves by means of temporary distraction. This "tuning out" and continual distraction keeps us from feeling or thinking to the point that life has become a series of routine, insulated occurrences.

American History X director, Tony Kaye, has delivered a film that taps into this dire state of disrepair society finds itself in. Instead of simply contributing to the glut, Kaye is trying to puncture the membrane using the idea of the school system as his proving ground. It's where we learn how to cope on the outside, where we're taught to conform, given a chance to find "our place"... this is a beautiful microcosm of life.

Kaye's story follows the interactions of a substitute teacher as he bounces off teachers and students. His calm, cool and collected demeanor makes him somewhat aloof, harking back to a defining incident in his childhood. He reaches out like The Good Samaritan, trying to connect with those around him, trying to break through the noise of life. Yet, each of his attempts are stifled by his inability to cope as he retreats to the comfortably numb sense of detachment.

Adrien Brody is a consistent actor, one with an earnest and honest manner that make him magnetic. We're drawn to his performance and repulsed by his predicament as Henry Barthes, making him an overflowing fascination. Brody delivers an impassioned performance that sets the bar for the whole ensemble, who contribute to an exuberant sense of dysfunction.

It's good to see Marcia Gay Harden again, this time on the verge of a breakdown as the school principal. James Caan plays that "seen-it-all-before" staff member, whose unconventional fire-with-fire methods are both assertive and disarming, in a quirky and memorable role that deserved more screen time. Christina Hendricks plays a slightly less experienced, yet equally fearless teacher and distraction for Barthes, while Tim Blake Nelson's performance jitters bittersweet tones.

Kaye's film has echoes of American History X in the way it projects a hostile environment for its characters, who seem to thrive on the unrest. There's very little respite in the world of Detachment, keeping the atmosphere taut with intensity and angst.

There are even aspects of Dead Poet's Society as Barthes tries to inspire and enlighten his pupils on an intellectual and emotional level. The difference being this is a school where teachers toughen up or drop out altogether. It's a government school without traditions or uniforms. This is trench warfare for teachers, perpetually being caught in no-man's land as mutual respect and self-motivation are a rare combination.

Detachment's bombardment of disillusionment is depressing, much like Requiem for a Dream, yet necessary to get through to a passive audience, who may well be in their own cycle of detachment. The relentless and powerful succession of deeply human scenes make it easy to mistake for melodrama. However, these impassioned performances are there to help inspire us to think and feel with the characters rather than cave into manipulated emotion.

The close ups and depth of material scream TV series, yet it's the reflective, meditative state and artistic chalkboard drawings that give Detachment a poetic, independent and very unHollywood spirit. This is a timely drama from Tony Kaye, one that tries to reflect society's disenfranchised and fractured state of mind. As Barthes states it's easy to be callous, but it takes courage to care. He's so busy doling out goodwill that he becomes trapped by his own need for a real connection.

Detachment is a powerful and timely drama, etched on a chalkboard by Tony Kaye and brought to life by soulful performances from an underdog cast. This "ubiquitous assimilation" may not be for everyone, however moving and thought-provoking the content. It serves as a wonderful shake up, one that makes you want to experience life more fully without the strangleholds of societal conditioning and condemnation.

The bottom line: Powerful



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