Thursday, March 22, 2007
HALF NELSON (2006) - Ryan Fleck
One of the actors nominated for an Oscar this year was Ryan Gosling, star of Half Nelson. Gosling plays Dan Dunne, an eight-grade Brooklyn school teacher. Aside from teaching the teenagers in his class the history of civil rights, Dunne spends his time doing crack, going to clubs in an attempt to find some worthy human contact and procrastinating over a children's book he is supposed to be writing about dialectics. While doing drugs in the locker room of the school where he teaches, Dunne is found by Drey (Shareeka Epps), one of the students in Dunne's class and a player on the basketball team Dunne coaches. She helps Dunne get over this particularly bad episode, and the two strike up a friendship. Both are dependent on drugs in different ways. Dunne, the addict, and Drey, who's family is torn apart by drugs. Dunne becomes concerned for Drey as a drug dealer who lives close to Drey takes an interest in the young girl.
Half Nelson is one of those films that falls into the genre occupied by other such notable films as Dead Poet's Society. Yet the film manages to avoid the pitfalls that can come with films about characters hitting rock-bottom and finding redemption in youth. Writer/director Ryan Fleck and co-writer Anna Boden avoid over sentimentality by underplaying the emotions in each scene. Luckily for the filmmakers, their cast is fantastic. Gosling is brilliant as the teacher who stresses to his students the importance of history as opposed to just learning the facts while struggling with an increasingly distressing drug habit. And Shareeka Epps proves herself an actor to watch as Dunne's student who is concerned for her teacher while trying to avoid falling into a lifestyle that landed her brother in jail. The film avoids all the cliches that accompany other films of it's type, and with a brilliantly subtle cast and excellent writing and directing, Half Nelson is definitely worth checking out.
Half Nelson @ IMDB