Detachment is one of those obscure video releases that pique one’s curiosity. Here’s a movie by Tony Kaye—who directed American History X (1998) and the landmark abortion documentary Lake of Fire (2006)—with a cast that includes Adrien Brody, Marcia Gay Harden, Christina Hendricks, Bryan Cranston, William Petersen, Tim Blake Nelson, Lucy Liu, Blythe Danner, and James Caan. But according to Box Office Mojo, Detachment played on no more than 15 screens when it was released this spring, and it never arrived in Chicago at all. With a roster of talent like that, what went wrong?
Well, plenty. To Kaye’s credit, he tackles a vast and seemingly irresolvable problem: the crisis in America’s schools, which has begun to generate both dramas (Won’t Back Down) and documentaries (The Cartel, Waiting for “Superman”). But his treatment of the subject verges on hysteria. “Hey, jackass! I axed you a fuckin’ question!” shouts one student in a do-rag before marching up to the front of class, getting in the teacher’s face, and hurling his leather satchel against the wall. In the front office, a mother bursts in with her daughter, spots the girl’s teacher (Hendricks), and gets in her face. “You the bitch that expelled my baby?” she screams as her daughter crosses her arms smugly. “And for what! Because you can’t handle her! Bitch, why are you here? You wanna be home with her every day? I don’t have time for this bullshit! Racist bitch! Ah’mo sue yo’ ass!” A flashback to the offending incident shows the daughter getting in the teacher’s face: “Bitch, you give me any more shit in class and I’m gonna have my niggas fuckin’ gang-rape yo’ ass!”