Starring: Adrian Brody, Marcia Gay Haden, James Caan, Christina Hendricks, Sami Gayle, Lucy Liu, Bryan Cranston, Blythe Danner
In cinemas now.
There have been many movies made about teachers who take a job in an underprivileged school with the hopes of connecting with the pupils. What makes this one different is that Adrian Brody’s Henry Barthes is just as disenfranchised as the teenagers in his class. Told through his eyes over a three week substitute teacher placement in a school that is, literally, on it’s knees Brody’s Barthes (the ‘s’ is silent) lays his cards on the table from the start telling the class that his only rule is that if they don’t want to be there then they shouldn’t be.
Their inability to intimidate him garners him a degree of respect however outside of the classroom he is dealing with a senile grandfather who is close to death in a care home and a teenage prostitute (Gayle) he has taken in off the streets in an attempt to help her. He also has underlying issues from his mother’s suicide and a burgeoning romance with a colleague (Hendricks), which all serves to overcomplicate his already complex life.
When an especially distressed student turns to him for help and it is misinterpreted the results are tragic and cause him to reassess everything he has been doing and stands for.
This is a profound reflection on the US educational system and makes movies like Dangerous Minds and Freedom Writers look like frothy comedies rather than serious dramas. Brody is amazing and everyone in the ensemble gives a fantastic performance as educators who just want to enlighten young minds but are thwarted at every turn by a system, parents and pupils that simply don’t care.
You get a real sense of the hopelessness felt by the characters in this film and Brody carries the whole thing with great aplomb. This isn’t an easy watch. It will definitely leave you with a lot of questions and will affect for a long time after you leave the cinema. This is debate inducing thought provoking cinema at it’s finest.