Director: Tony Kaye
Cast: Adrien Brody, Blythe Danner, Christina Hendricks, James Caan, Lucy Liu, Marcia Gaye Harden.
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Stuck in the middle of a dysfunctional Long Island school where the pupils are unruly, the staff ground down, the parents irrational and the authorities uncompromising is an dynamite performance from Adrien Brody as the sensitive but emotionally detached supply teacher Henry Barthes. And nobody can lead through this valley of tears better than Adrien Brody with his soulful eyes and air of resignation. Carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders with a saintly expression, Henry Barthes appears permanently on the verge of tears or some emotional outburst he just manages to rein in. A dysfunctional childhood alluded to in flashbacks makes him uniquely placed to feel the pain behind the anger of the pupils he teaches and they respond. Earning respect with a draconian fist in a kid glove of understanding, he becomes father confessional for Meredith (Sami Kaye), an overweight pupil, and a young and vulnerable prostitute Erica (Sami Gayle) whom he rescues from the streets only to hand over to the authorities. There are some great turns from the staff of James Caan, Lucy Liu and Christina Hendricks who all seem to be suffering aggravated nervous breakdowns as the school system gradually disintegrates like some modern day house of Usher. But it’s to Barthes that the pupils cling like rats to a sinking ship. Drawing on literary references from Edgar Allen Poe and Albert Camus, documentary-style interviews with staff and strong visuals, Tony Kaye leads us on a moving journey through a landscape of emotional isolation and diminishing social values in this hard-hitting if at times over-melodramic drama.
Meredith Taylor ©
Showing at Curzon, Odeon and Cineworld from 13 July 2012