Detachment - 'A Lesson In Remorse'
Detachment (Director: Tony Kaye, certificate 15)
Chariots Of Fire (Director: Hugh Hudson, certificate PG)
At one point in Detachment, a US drama set in a struggling high school, a teacher delivers an impassioned speech to his students about the harmful influences of commercialism. Getting into his stride, he refers bitterly to “the marketing holocaust” young people have to endure.
A bit strong, perhaps, but you can’t deny the pressures on young people that stop them thinking for themselves, and the classroom lecture is in keeping with the film’s sombre, sometimes awkwardly earnest depiction of the poor state of public education in the US, despite the best efforts of the teaching staff.
The scene is noteworthy for another reason. Detachment is directed by Tony Kaye, a British film-maker who in the ’90s made his name with a series of visionary commercials. Few people are better experienced to comment on the power of advertising, and so the blistering criticism carries with it a suggestion of remorse.
Kaye has been doing his fair share of remorse, lately.
For a long time he had a reputation for having one of Hollywood’s biggest egos – which, given the competition, must count as some kind of achievement. Already notorious in UK advertising for self-publicity stunts (like taking out an ad in the London’s Evening Standard, declaring he was “the Greatest English Director Since Alfred Hitchcock”), he famously fell out with a Hollywood studio over the final cut of his debut feature, the 1998 film American History X, publicly feuded with the film’s star Edward Norton, and tried to have his own credit changed to Humpty Dumpty.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, he then ruined his friendship with Marlon Brando when in 2000 he turned up for a project they were working on dressed as Osama Bin Laden. The film industry can tolerate a certain amount of eccentricity from its more creative members, but there are some things frowned upon even in Hollywood.
In interviews for the release of Detachment Kaye has been working hard to reverse that reputation, and the impression he gives is of a thoughtful, considered, rather likeable fellow. If I were being cynical I might say that the film-maker, ever the adept marketeer, is attempting to detoxify the Tony Kaye brand.
But Detachment is a film it’s hard to be cynical about. Starring Adrien Brody (whose father was a teacher) as Henry, a substitute teacher in an inner-city high school, it is a raw and unblinking look at the struggles of public-school educators and their teenage pupils.
Kaye has cast high-profile actors like Lucy Liu, James Caan and Marcia Gay Harden to play teachers alongside Brody, and he mixes styles, including documentary-like inserts and short animated sequences, to evoke the everyday turmoil in and around the classroom.
A series of dispatches from the frontline of the education system – teenage suicide, animal cruelty and appalling sexual abuse are among the challenges that face Henry – this is a far cry from the trite sentimentality of Dead Poets Society and Dangerous Minds, high-school movies in which gifted teachers triumph through force of character.
Tony Kaye isn’t interested in selling us such simplified messages. Instead, Detachment offers a hard but persuasive portrait of the complex, demanding, quietly heroic business of delivering a high-school education. A lesson worth watching.
And another thing…
Chariots of Fire, a film by another British ad man turned film-maker, Hugh Hudson, is being re-released just in time for the Olympics.
Let’s Make Love (1960)
Don’t be swayed by the suggestive title – Let’s Make Love is a breezy, fun musical given quirky enthusiasm by the glamorous Marilyn Monroe. Focusing on the magic of showbiz, the film explores billionaire Jean-Marc Clement’s attempt to get closer to a beautiful cast member of a musical portraying his own life. The movie itself is hardly imagination at its best, however the chance to see Monroe in one of her most influential roles is one that should not be passed up. Director: George Cukor. Out on Blu-ray from July 23