Complete A-Z list



Stars: Adrien Brody, Sami Gayle, James Caan. Marcia Gay Harden, Christina Hendricks, Bryan Cranston, Lucy Liu, Blythe Danner, Tim Blake Nelson, William Petersen, Betty Kaye, Doug E Doug

Director: Tony Kaye

You half expect to see someone standing by to hand out razor blades on the way out after this grim and terminally depressing portrait of the bleak lives of both pupils and staff at a failing American school.

Substitute teacher Henry (Brody), at the school for a month, overcomes initial confrontations with pupils contemptuous of authority and begins to make progress. In his private life, he visits his dying grandfather (who abused his mother: all human torment is here) in between taking a sub-teen prostitute (Gayle) under his wing and cleaning her up.

If this sounds at all upbeat, I have misled you. Suicide is an ongoing theme in the film, and most of the teachers are on the edges of despair (or beyond them) about teenagers with no prospects who are either angry and resentful or simply don't care.

'We have a responsibility to our young,' says Henry, ' so that they don't end up falling by the wayside, becoming insignificant.' Like most other things in the film, that idea ends in failure and, for adults and children alike, only a 'sea of pain' remains. The film offers no solutions and only makes you wonder if many American schools can really be this bad.

A distinguished cast portray the despairing teachers, with Danner a standout, but CSI's Petersen has almost nothing to do, and Brody's Henry is just too hangdog and lugubrious to merit much of our sympathy.

David Quinlan

USA 2011. UK Distributor: G2 Pictures. Fujicolor.
92 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 3.

Review date: 11 Jul 2012