Henry (Brody) takes a month-long assignment teaching at a tough school run by beleaguered principal Carol (Harden). Unflappable in the face of the unruly students, he calmly tries to get through to the teens. He clicks with fellow teacher Sarah (Hendricks). As a substitute, Henry's job is to maintain order, which seems like an impossible challenge. So he instead reaches out to a teen hooker (Gayle), thinking he might actually be able to make a difference in her life. But he can't help but wonder if he's doing more harm than good.
Despite its plaintive, introspective tone, this film heavy-handedly rants about an education system that has failed both children and teachers. The teachers all seem on the edge, worn down by constant abuse from out-of-control students and parents who blame their own failings on the school. So it's chilling to watch Henry's inner rage boil over in other settings, lashing out at anyone who slacks off in his or her job.
Kaye vividly portrays the teachers' powerlessness. The school shrink (Liu) faces mind-boggling issues, while the stand-in dean (Caan) shrugs helplessly in the face of disrespect. Clearly, screenwriter Lund's targets are parents who shirk their responsibility to guide their children into becoming useful members of society. And then there are politicians who have no interest in helping anyone but themselves, stressing mindless test scores over actual education.
The film opens with a quote from Albert Camus, "And never have I felt so deeply at one and the same time so detached from myself and so present in the world." Punctuated with chalkboard-style animation and an overpowering sense of decay, the story takes harrowing turns that feel a bit pushy, piling on wrenching emotions along with a general sense of desperation, as if America is heading for an apocalypse. This might be true, but the film feels as if it's saying that it's impossible to change a broken system.
Run time: 98 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 1st February 2012
Box Office USA: $70.9k
Distributed by: Tribeca Films
Production compaines: Kingsgate Films
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 57%
Fresh: 38 Rotten: 29
IMDB: 7.7 / 10
Director: Tony Kaye
Producer: Bingo Gubelmann, Benji Kohn, Carl Lund, Chris Papavasiliou, Greg Shapiro, Austin Stark
Screenwriter: Carl Lund
Starring: Adrien Brody as Henry Barthes, Marcia Gay Harden as Principal Carol Dearden, James Caan as Mr. Charles Seaboldt, Christina Hendricks as Ms. Sarah Madison, Lucy Liu as Dr. Parker, Blythe Danner as Ms. Perkins, Tim Blake Nelson as Mr. Wiatt, William Petersen as Mr. Sarge Kepler, Bryan Cranston as Richard Dearden, Sami Gayle as Erica, Celia Au as Ellen (as Sze Ming Au), Louis Zorich as Grampa, Isiah Whitlock, Jr. as Mr. Mathias, Patricia Rae as Ms. Estrada
Also starring: Greg Shapiro
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