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Detachment (2012)


Average Rating: 5.8/10
Reviews Counted: 67
Fresh: 38
Rotten: 29

Critics Consensus: Detachment's heart is in the right place, but overall it doesn't offer any solutions to its passionate ranting.

Average Rating: 5.2/10
Reviews Counted: 20
Fresh: 8
Rotten: 12

Critics Consensus: Detachment's heart is in the right place, but overall it doesn't offer any solutions to its passionate ranting.


Average Rating: 3.8/5
User Ratings: 6,020


Movie Info

In Director Tony Kaye's Detachment, Adrien Brody stars as Henry Barthes, an educator with a true talent to connect with his students. Yet Henry has chosen to bury his gift. By spending his days as a substitute teacher, he conveniently avoids any emotional connections by never staying anywhere long enough to form an attachment to either students or colleagues. When a new assignment places him at a public school where a frustrated, burned-out administration has created an apathetic student body, … More

Directed By:
Written By:
Carl Lund
In Theaters:
Sep 18, 2012
Box Office:
Tribeca Films - Official Site


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Critic Reviews for Detachment

All Critics (67) | Top Critics (20) | Fresh (38) | Rotten (29) | DVD (1)

A loud, grating wallow in dime-store despair.

Full Review… | May 10, 2012
Miami Herald
Top Critic

The film is guilty of reverse sentimentality, where the relentless unhappiness comes to seem as manufactured and artificial as the schmaltz in a romcom.

Full Review… | May 4, 2012
Globe and Mail
Top Critic

Detachment gets an A for enthusiasm but a C for execution.

Full Review… | May 3, 2012
Toronto Star
Top Critic

There's something weirdly effective about the artistic desperation, which includes inserts of chalkboard animation and to-the-camera testimonials.

Full Review… | March 22, 2012
Los Angeles Times
Top Critic

Everywhere you turn in Detachment, someone is trying to make you feel like hell.

Full Review… | March 22, 2012
TIME Magazine
Top Critic

Detachment gets to you. It hits hard.

Full Review… | March 16, 2012
Rolling Stone
Top Critic

A bizarre, well intentioned mess, at the very least, Detachment is never dull...even as the film is bad, it's compulsively watchable.

Full Review… | July 10, 2013
The Playlist

It's a film so well paced with a message so relevant that it deserves an audience bigger than what it got and it deserves more of an emotional impact than will resonant throughout.

Full Review… | February 5, 2013

While Adrien Brody gives it his all in his performance, the film suffers greatly from an attempt to equalize its multiple plotlines.

Full Review… | January 22, 2013
We Got This Covered

Even a talented director like Tony Kaye (American History X) and a great performance from Brody can't save a mess like this.

Full Review… | September 16, 2012

Detachment is the sort of film-of-the-week that ought to appeal to anyone who loves movies in the purest sense.

Full Review… | August 15, 2012
Birmingham Post

Detachment has such original energy and is so infused with righteous anger that it proves hard to dismiss.

Full Review… | July 15, 2012
Irish Times

The acting is excellent but the movie is the sort of thing that gives pessimism a bad name.

Full Review… | July 14, 2012
Observer [UK]

Despite its title and central theme, Tony Kaye's complicated lament for values abandoned and children betrayed leaves little room for indifference.

Full Review… | July 13, 2012

Admittedly, the film is heavy-handed in places, but it still makes you sit up and take notice.

Full Review… | July 13, 2012
Radio Times

Grappling with the dilapidation of America's school system is fair enough, but the movie is painfully undone by its pretentious poetry of despair.

Full Review… | July 13, 2012
Daily Telegraph

If Detachment is only partially successful, it is still more watchable than most school sagas.

Full Review… | July 13, 2012
This is London

It is pretentious and overbearing at times but passionate.

Full Review… | July 13, 2012
Daily Express

It is a touch more subtle than X, carrying off the tough trick of being both amusing and depressing.

Full Review… | July 12, 2012
Sun Online

It's watchable enough, but the bludgeoning screenplay seems undercooked compared to the high-grade actors on show.

Full Review… | July 12, 2012

Like the recent Margaret it rages against the dying of the light in a country where too many people think the lights are still on.

Full Review… | July 12, 2012
Financial Times

It's a vaguely elegant brute of a film, but a long way from Kaye's best.

Full Review… | July 12, 2012
Little White Lies

Stylishly directed and sharply written, this is an engaging, if ultimately depressing drama with strong performances from a superb ensemble cast.

Full Review… | July 11, 2012

Tony Kaye's penchant for piercing filmmaking hasn't gone anywhere.

Full Review… | July 10, 2012
What Culture

Incredible performances from the cast, but Detachment is perhaps just too pretentiously depressing for its own good.

Full Review… | July 8, 2012
Empire Magazine

It's directed and acted with enough sensitivity to stir our sympathies.

Full Review… | July 5, 2012
Shadows on the Wall

Audience Reviews for Detachment


An over-baked mess of good ideas. If the idea was to make a statement on the American educational system then it should have focused on that instead of all the other distracting sub-plots. It all seemed a bit cliched, like a mix of scenes and characters (and cinematic styles - non of which Kaye can call his own) from other films. In my opinion Tony Kaye fails to get the message across (again) because he totally lacks focus. I really wanted to like it, there is a good film in there somewhere, it's just confused and contrived beyond recognition. Brody and Caan's performances are the high points and I loved seeing Louis Zorich again.

Anthony Lawrie

Super Reviewer

A dark chronicling of the sad state of the American Public School System, through the eyes of a long-term substitute teacher (Adrien Brody), wrestling his own demons whilst trying to make a difference both professionally and personally during his latest assignment.

Tony Kaye's "Detachment" is not the lecture I was expecting. It's an almost spiritual study of a system; a broken one, flawed (and as suggested) not inherently but by larger societal problems too broad and numerous to fully grasp or understand. It assesses these issues not with hope but with pitch black honesty. No solutions given but the disturbing thought that some things will never change. Kaye uses the phenomenal performance of Adrian Brody to ground us in the drama. We think at first this will be one man's story, but the narrative's concerns are much broader. This reminded me of "American History X," a masterpiece, also directed by Kaye. It showcases a career best performance (Ed Norton in that movie) in a character piece that isn't so much about a personal journey as it is a grand statement about a specific social problem that will continue to thrive with no end in sight. In "Detachment," Kaye's technique is equally experimental, in a story that's even less streamlined. Brody is definitely the star of the movie, but is not necessarily the focus. We are violently thrust into the lives of a myriad characters; unexpectedly and frantically at times. It could be argued that "Detachment" lacks focus to a fault, but I didn't feel this. Kaye's creation works as collage, similar to but not as extreme as Terrence Malick's take on WWII in "The Thin Red Line." As with "American History X," Kaye's stance is obvious and moment to moment scenes are a bit preachy, but none of this detracts from the established tone and eventual takeaway of this socially conscience, effortlessly powerful movie. The film's cold, apocalyptic final shots aptly conclude a bleak portrait. One that's relentlessly grim, sure, but a bold work of cinema that leaves a lot to ponder.

Michael S

Super Reviewer


I found this film depressing, and overall just empty. It is non-stop gloom and doom, and it seems each person is having major issues: from the students, to the faculty, to any other supporting cast members. The issues are never resolved, they just seem to linger throughout. After it was all over, I just felt unsatisfied, and unmoved by it all....

Cynthia S.

Super Reviewer


Having been a big fan of "American History X" in 1998, I was eager to see what else director Tony Kaye had in store. Unfortunately, he didn't make that many films and those that he did - "Lobby Lobster" and "Black Water Transit" - didn't quite reach a bigger audience. As a result, I was happy to come across "Detachment" which proves that Kaye hasn't lost any of his style or starkness.
Henry Barthes (Adrien Brody) is a substitute teacher brought in to a struggling urban high school to teach English and work with kids who are performing at a very low grade. Being a substitute is exactly the way Henry likes it as he deliberately tries to avoid making genuine connections with people (and that includes his pupils). As time goes on, though, Mr. Barthes realises his pupils' needs for his input which forces him to confront his own demons and isolation.

"And never have I felt so deeply at one and the same time so detached from myself and so present in the world."
As the film opens, this is the quote from French philosopher Albert Camus, that's scribed onto a blackboard before we are introduced to the protagonist and the personal conflict he finds himself in. On the one hand, he's a caring individual but on the other, he deliberately keeps a distance from people as he's consumed by a guilt that doesn't belong to him. His detachment is also reflected in the frustrated and disillusioned pupils he teaches, making this a melting pot of emotionally dysfunctional people. It's this very mirroring in the individuals that make this quite a thought provoking character study, as well as a diatribe on the state of the American educational system and the problems therein.
Kaye shoots the film with an edgy, fly on the wall approach, utilising the shaky-cam technique and numerous close-ups that bring you closer to the characters and their inner turmoil. There's also the assembly of a very impressive cast, all-be-it, a lot of them are wasted in thankless, underwritten roles. The likes of Bryan Cranston, Blythe Danner and William Petersen needn't have turned up at all, but James Caan lightens the mood whenever he's onscreen and the young unknowns get a chance to shine instead; particularly (the director's daughter) Betty Kaye, who develops a crush on her teacher and Sami Gayle as a young prostitute who develops a similar infatuation. The real star, though, is a brooding and commanding Brody. He's rarely offscreen for the entirety of the film and even though it's no surprise that he delivers his usual reliability, he's especially good with a very powerful and charismatic performance. However, the cast and the impressive handling of the material can't save the film from being overly depressing, or when drawing to it's conclusion, descending into melodrama from which it never fully recovers.
Cut from the same cloth as the, Oscar nominated, Ryan Gosling movie "Half Nelson", director Tony Kaye delivers a good insight into the difficulties of teaching and the importance of instilling a good childhood and sense of self in our youth.

Mark Walker

Mark Walker

Super Reviewer

Detachment Quotes

Henry Barthes:
Life is an ocean of chaos and the realization that you are the one supposed to throw the buoy while struggling to stay afloat is devastating.
– Submitted by James H (3 months ago)
Henry Barthes:
We have such a responsibility to guide our young so that they don't end up falling apart, falling by the wayside, becoming insignificant.
– Submitted by Henrik A (19 months ago)
Henry Barthes:
We all need something to distract us from complexity, reality.
– Submitted by Autumn O (22 months ago)
Henry Barthes:
I realized something today. I'm a non-person, Sarah. You shouldn't be here, I'm not here. You may see me, but I'm hollow.
– Submitted by Andrea J (22 months ago)
You afraid you'll like it?
Henry Barthes:
I'm afraid you've gotten fucked and thrown away so many times you've gotten used to it.
– Submitted by Andrea J (22 months ago)
Henry Barthes:
You may see me, but I'm hollow.
– Submitted by caroban s (2 years ago)

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