Half Nelson

"Good"

Half Nelson Review


Dan Dunne never sleeps in the same place twice. No, he's not bedding some hottie every other night; he's home in his Brooklyn apartment. He might grab a few hours rolled up on his sheetless bed or a ratty couch, if he sleeps at all. In the opening sequence of Half Nelson, Dan (Ryan Gosling) sits dumbly at a coffee table, up all night from a coke binge, finally stirring to shut off his buzzing alarm clock. A new day is starting, with or without him. And he's scheduled to teach his middle-school history class, just like every other day.

At a time when social issues are usually discussed (or hollered about) at the far extremes, it's refreshing to see a film like Half Nelson that wallows in the gray areas. Gosling's Dunne is about as gray as it gets: He's a well-intentioned teacher, once eager to change the world, now stuck in a rut as a lonely, strung-out nobody. He gets jazzed imparting civil rights lessons to his mostly black class, but doesn't have enough pride in his own existence. In short, it's a role made for an actor like Gosling, who revels in character complexities as effectively as some of the greats. In Gosling's able hands, Dunn is likable, logical, perhaps even charming -- but would you want your kids taught by a crack addict?

Challenges and questions abound in this solid drama, thanks to filmmakers Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, film festival veterans whose Sundance award-winning short Gowanus, Brooklyn was the source for this feature-length entry. That short's main character, a tough quiet student named Drey, is a pivotal lead here, played again by calm, talented newcomer Shareeka Epps. In Half Nelson, Drey enters the picture after discovering Mr. Dunne in an empty girls' locker room, near catatonic after a serious pipe hit.

With Dunn's secret out, an unconventional relationship blossoms between teacher and student -- instead of shying away from Dunne, Drey, the only kid in a broken home, begins to trust and rely on him. Epps' smooth, even-tempered performance is a wonderful complement to Gosling's disaffected surrender. The pair exchanges dialogue with a likable, vérité-style flow, one that fits well into director Fleck's urgent handheld approach.

The film's deliberate pacing does break down about two-thirds of the way through, when it feels as if we've already seen the most interesting facets of both characters' lives. Fleck and Boden do pull out a sad, revealing family encounter for Dunne that helps, but the sum total is still a little lengthy.

Fleck, however, carries such confidence in creating an honest, unassuming character study, that the missteps are easily forgiven. In a move that could be perceived as overdone, Dunne's students periodically address the camera to explain pivotal moments in civil rights history -- oppression is a minor obsession for Dunne -- and Fleck uses archival footage of the Attica prison massacre and Brown vs. Board of Ed to make his point. This carries a dose of conceit, sure, but it expands Half Nelson nicely beyond the limited world of its characters.

Something that may go overlooked is Fleck and Boden's ability to rely on our expectations of cinematic conflict and then disassemble them. When Dunne confronts a drug-dealing friend of Drey's family (a superb exchange between Gosling and Anthony Mackie), we've seen the scene a million times in other films. But in Half Nelson, the filmmakers and actors know that crashing a cliché is much more exciting. And leaving a situation unresolved puts you in that cloudy area where people actually exist.

Watch me put this entire globe in my mouth.



Half Nelson

Facts and Figures

Run time: 106 mins

In Theaters: Friday 11th August 2006

Box Office USA: $2.6M

Budget: $700 thousand

Distributed by: ThinkFilm

Production compaines: Thinkfilm, Hunting Lane Films, Journeyman Pictures, Original Media, Silverwood Films, Traction Media

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
Fresh: 138 Rotten: 15

IMDB: 7.3 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Ryan Fleck

Producer: Anna Boden

Starring: as Dan Dunne, Jeff Lima as Roodly, Shareeka Epps as Drey, Nathan Corbett as Terrance, Tyra Kwao-Vovo as Stacy, Rosemary Ledee as Gina, as Jamal, Bryce Silver as Bernard, Kaela C. Pabon as Lena, Erica Rivera as Erika, Stephanie Bast as Vanessa, as Simone, Sebastian Sozzi as Javier, as Rachel, Karen Chilton as Karen, as Frank, Monique Gabriela Curnen as Isabel, as Mike, as Jo, Jay O. Sanders as Russ, as Cindy, as Jamal, as Jimbo

Also starring:

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Trumbo Movie Review

Trumbo Movie Review

An entertaining film about sobering true events, this is the story of notorious screenwriter Dalton...

Goosebumps Movie Review

Goosebumps Movie Review

Mixing the action, comedy and horror from novelist R.L. Stein's books into a family-friendly package,...

Dad's Army Movie Review

Dad's Army Movie Review

The beloved 1970s British sit-com gets the big screen treatment, although there's been very little...

Spotlight Movie Review

Spotlight Movie Review

This film demonstrates that you don't need guns to make an exciting thriller. Based on...

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi Movie Review

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi Movie Review

Not the subtlest director working in Hollywood, Michael Bay brings his surging machismo to this...

Dirty Grandpa Movie Review

Dirty Grandpa Movie Review

There's nothing clever about this deliberately rude and vulgar comedy, but certain audiences will find...

The Big Short Movie Review

The Big Short Movie Review

Smart and snappy, this comedy is one of the scariest films of the year, using...

Advertisement
The 5th Wave Movie Review

The 5th Wave Movie Review

Also based on the first in a trilogy of post-apocalyptic teen novels, this thriller feels...

Ride Along 2 Movie Review

Ride Along 2 Movie Review

Ice Cube and Kevin Hart reteam for a sequel no one really asked for, following...

Room Movie Review

Room Movie Review

One of the most extraordinary films of the year, this drama cleverly weaves in events...

Creed Movie Review

Creed Movie Review

While this film is basically Rocky VII, it's also much more than that, and perhaps...

A Perfect Day Movie Review

A Perfect Day Movie Review

An irreverent comedy in the style of the original M.A.S.H., this wartime romp takes an...

Partisan Movie Review

Partisan Movie Review

With his feature debut, young Australian filmmaker Ariel Kleiman tells a creepy story about a...

The Revenant Movie Review

The Revenant Movie Review

A wrenching saga of survival and revenge, Alejandro G. Inarritu's new epic is just as...

The Hateful Eight Movie Review

The Hateful Eight Movie Review

Quentin Tarantino is a filmmaker who simply can't be ignored, especially when he lobs a...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.