Starring: Adrien Brody, James Caan, Lucy Liu, Christina Hendricks
Director: Tony Kaye
Runtime: 97 minutes
What do you do if the school you teach has become an anarchy of violent students, harassing the teachers and other students alike? What do you do if the neighbourhood you live in goes to hell, with prostitutes and gang violence determining the face of the streets? What do you do when the last person you love is about to die? All these questions are fired upon Henry Barthes (Adrien Brody) at once. What follows is a compelling drama where Henry tries to find the answers to these questions.
The movie starts out with Henry, a substitute teacher, being hired at a school for the duration of a month. His task is to have at least a few students pass the grade, as they are about to fail miserably. Nothing new here, we’ve seen this kind of setting multiple times with movies like ‘The Substitute’ (1996). What sets this movie apart, is the way Henry tries to tackle each problem. His wisdom mostly comes from books (for instance, comparing modern-day society with Orwell’s ‘1984’), and combined with his naivety results in certain situations you know are bad and he shouldn’t act the way he does, but it is the moral high ground, the right thing to do. Even if this gets him into trouble.
It’s as if Adrien Brody is made for these drama’s. He played magnificently in alongside Keira Knightley in ‘The Jacket’ (2005) , and has already won an oscar for his portrayal of Władysław Szpilman in ‘The Pianist’ (2002). His acting in this film is on par with the aforementioned movies. Sublime. Add Lucy Liu as the school counselor, about to have a burnout, angsty Christina Hendricks and a jolly James Caan (high on valium, probably), and you have a great cast.
The movie seems to be a protest against the current schooling-system in the United States. Between segments, you see Adrien Brody talking to the camera about what is wrong with schools today, how this problem originates and possibly what should change. After seeing this film, you know: “Shit’s fucked up”. It might be a call to action, a final plea to the government to turn things around. A political message.
This independent movie needs to be seen. It has won multiple independent awards, and you might even see this title among the oscar nominations next year. It’s that good.