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dir Tony Kaye
scr Carl Lund
prd Bingo Gubelmann, Benji Kohn, Carl Lund, Chris Papavasiliou, Greg Shapiro, Austin Stark
with Adrien Brody, Marcia Gay Harden, Christina Hendricks, Sami Gayle, James Caan, Blythe Danner, Lucy Liu, William Petersen, Bryan Cranston, Tim Blake Nelson, Betty Kaye, Isiah Whitlock Jr
release US 16.Mar.12, UK 13.Jul.12
Are you my mentor? Gayle and Brody
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
An almost overpowering sense of hopelessness makes this education-system drama difficult to watch. Fortunately, it's directed and acted with enough sensitivity to stir our sympathies. Although we're not sure we want to go wherever this bleak story might be heading.
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.
|R E A D E R R E V I E W S|
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© 2012 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall|
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