Half Nelson (2006)

DVD Cover (Sony Home Entertainment)
Genres: Drama, Social Problem Film, Urban Drama
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Ryan Fleck Ryan Fleck
Ryan Gosling Ryan Gosling
Jeff Lima Jeff Lima
Shareeka Epps Shareeka Epps
Nathan Corbett Nathan Corbett
Tyra Kwao-Vovo Tyra Kwao-Vovo

7.2 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by Kari Byron's Sex Cyborg
Added: June 28, 2007
Right off the cuff, I have got to say that Ryan Gosling's performance is magnificent. He plays Dan Dunne, a middle school history teacher with an unorthodox style of teaching, doubling as the girls basketball coach who can't seem to rid himself of his drug addiction. No matter the scene, whether he's naturally engaging with the students in a class discussion or if he's in an altered state under the influence, you can't not be captivated. I would like to say that Gosling's acting sells this movie, but then I'd be shortchanging everything else that makes Half Nelson so fantastic.

The title for this movie is named after a wrestling move where from behind an opponent, you pass one arm under and around the corresponding arm of theirs, exerting pressure on the back of their neck, putting your opponent in an uncomfortable and struggling position. Thirteen-year-old Drey gets caught in just that- an uncomfortable and struggling position.

One night after a basketball game, Drey stumbles upon a fragile Mr. Dunne who is smoking crack in a girls bathroom stall. This startling moment is the beginning of a new relationship. While the two bud a friendship and Dan envisions himself with hope as someone Drey can come to, given that she's absent of a father figure and noting that her loving mother works all day, a drug dealer by the name of Frank, who is responsible for Drey's brother going to prison, tries to form a stronger bond with Drey with what seems to be good intentions in mind. As it turns out, Frank is Dan's dealer, and both feel that the other shouldn't be getting involved in Drey's life. With their tensions rising, she is stuck in between, practically being forced into choosing sides.

Dan is the type of liberal teacher that all the kids love, yet his unconventional teaching methods are somewhat questionable due to them straying from the curriculum. He lives in a shabby apartment with his cat and doesn't seem to have any friends to speak of, but we do get in touch with a woman who seems to have been an old flame of his, looking to rekindle their romance; the story of their relationship being told breathtakingly through the words they don't speak. What Dan finds solace in is his drug habit and hanging out at bars - he'll either do a few lines of cocaine or hit a crack pipe, and then he's out to have a good time. It should go without mention that the drugs are making Dan an unstable person, but he's aware of the effects it has on him and others around. There are too many great scenes to name where Gosling offers an absorbing and emotional display.

Two other performances just as commendable as Gosling's are those by Shareeka Epps as Drey and Anthony Mackie as Frank. Although there isn't a lot of dialogue for Drey, Epps takes on her character impeccably and has a marvelous presence - her expressions tell all so precisely, and it's a joy when she flashes that wonderful smile of hers. Mackie pulls out way more than you'd probably expect as the slick and likable Frank.

It was with Mackie's inviting character that I noticed the filmmakers weren't simply aiming to break away from cliché, but they instead wanted to present the characters in a nonjudgmental way. Frank's a drug dealer and you should see him as a detestable person for that, yet the filmmakers don't force that on the audience. And despite the fact that Dan is a drug addict, shameful in that respect, you still give in to his charm and sympathize for him without it put in front of you on a plate. The story unfolds in the same vein where there aren't any fingers being pointed nor is there a straight line of direction.

Everything in this debut feature-length from Ryan Fleck is magical. The cinematography is brilliantly handled by way of the unsteady camera style. There are scenes that seem awkwardly unfocused along with a few wandering shots, but they all just work so beautifully. Then there's the engrossing soundtrack which vastly consists of songs by Broken Social Scene. Every unique scene where one of their alluring songs sets the mood and the camera innocently lingers is a celestial marriage. You can also sense some underlying sociopolitical messages outlined by the setting of the film, a Brooklyn ghetto. It was the short film Gowanus, Brooklyn of Fleck's that Half Nelson was adapted from, which Shareeka Epps also starred in. Unfortunately, the nineteen-minute short isn't included on the DVD, so I cannot comment on it.

It's surprising to know this is a full-length feature debut for the talented director Ryan Fleck and young actor Shareeka Epps who will certainly be ones to keep an eye out for in the future. Being so taken into Ryan Gosling's role, I very much look forward to watching the movies on my "Too-See" list which he stars in, such as The Believer, Stay, and The United States Of Leland. In my eyes, Half Nelson is a fantastic movie that has numerous strong points to stand on, with everything I look for in a drama done flawlessly.

bluemeanie #1: bluemeanie - added 06/28/2007, 10:20 AM
This is a good film, don't get me wrong. I enjoyed "Half-Nelson" very much. However, I don't think it was somewhat overrated, and Ryan Gosling is my chief reason for thinking that. I am a Ryan Gosling fan. I think he's a great actor. However, he didn't really 'wow' me in this film. I didn't find his performance in this film any more or less remarkable than his performances in "The Believer" or "The United States of Leland". And when I saw this film last year compared to some of the other films released, I was more than a little surprised with his Best Actor nomination. Once again -- very good film. But overrated. 7.5/10.
bluemeanie #2: bluemeanie - added 06/28/2007, 10:20 AM
Sorry -- correcting myself from the first line -- "I DO think it was somewhat overrated..."
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