Detachment is a bleak and pessimistic portrait of the state of affairs in and around the educational system in an unnamed, ostensibly underprivileged part of the United States. The schooling environment and the kids' misbehaviour is appalling beyond belief, but on the surface, everything is clean and pretty, from the teachers to the classrooms and to our protagonist Henry Barthes's (Adrien Brody) sterile apartment. Director Tony Kaye's point here, arguably, is the same that Henry is making in class one life-weary day; American youth are being force-fed with superficiality and a fleeting understanding of happiness based on good looks, cheap entertainment and sexism.
This is a bold and comprehensive statement to make through a film; you might even call it arrogant or downright misanthropic. Because although I do believe Kaye's intention is to put focus on a general problem in today's society, we're not offered much in terms of solutions or food for thought - merely a sensationalistic portrayal that, granted, definitely has several valid points, but that also goes to just about every extreme there is in order to convey them. Did we have to see that cat get tortured? Did we have to see three black characters in the most stereotypical ill-behaved parts? And did every single character in the movie have to be miserable? Because without more complete profiling of some of these secondary characters (Caan, Hendricks, Liu), they offer little more than added misery, leaving the Brody character to stand alone in his frustrated well-doing, with his clean white shirt, almost like a saint out of context. It's hard to find these people believable, despite all the great acting in here.
Never did I find Detachment uninteresting or irrelevant, and it's definitely worth seeing, like most of Tony Kaye's stuff, but I cannot univocally endorse a film whose only optimism is through a plot line that is a rip off of what would have happened if Léon had not reached Mathilda until two years later. In all other of its many aspects, Detachment tries too hard and offers too little - except for some fun and semi-effective animations and camera-work.