Review from Clash’s issue from July.
Although he didn’t agree and even tried to have his name removed from the credits, Tony Kaye’s American History X was one of the finest films of the nineties. After numerous music videos, a documentary and the still unfinished Black Water Transit, Detachment is his first fictional feature since his 1998 debut.
Whatever problems Kaye may have, Detachment proves that attracting a high quality cast isn’t one of them. Adrien Brody leads with a phenomenal performance as Henry Barthes, an idealistic substitute teacher in a rundown American school, and is supported by the likes of Christina Hendricks, Lucy Liu, James Caan and The Wire’s Isiah Whitlock Jr.
Although some familiar sub-plots abound, Detachment isn’t the well-trodden cliché of an inspirational teacher leading his pupils to a better life. Instead, Brody’s sullen eyes tell a different tale – how to cope in the face of utter helplessness. As the air of desperation engulfs both the viewer and Barthes, Detachment looks like matching American History X’s bleak state of the world address. Such unrelenting pathos pushes the boundaries of realism to breaking point, in the process leaving an otherwise excellent return from Kaye surprisingly short of credibility.