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Half Nelson

3.9 out of 5 stars 134 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling) is a young inner-city junior high school teacher whose ideals wither and die in the face of reality. Day after day in his shabby Brooklyn classroom, he somehow finds the energy to inspire his 13 and 14-year-olds to examine everything from civil rights to the Civil War with a new enthusiasm. Rejecting the standard curriculum in favor of an edgier approach, Dan teaches his students how change works -- on both a historical and personal scale -- and how to think for themselves. Though Dan is brilliant, dynamic, and in control in the classroom, he spends his time outside school on the edge of consciousness. His disappointments and disillusionment have led to a serious drug habit. He juggles his hangovers and his homework, keeping his lives separated, until one of his troubled students, Drey (Shareeka Epps), catches him getting high after school. From this awkward beginning, Dan and Drey stumble into an unexpected friendship. Despite the differences in their ages a


Sometimes people are attracted to each other because of their differences. When there's a nebulous attraction between a teacher and a young teenage child--as in the superb Half Nelson--the relationship has all the makings of confused disaster. Though there are a few uncomfortable moments when it's not obvious whether Dan (Ryan Gosling) and Drey (Shareeka Epps) might cross the line, the attraction between the pair is culled less from sexual tension than desperation. Dan is an idealistic history teacher in an inner-city school. Drey is one of his brightest students. For both, drugs represent something that may help them escape their worlds. He takes drugs to dull his dissatisfaction with himself. She views drugs as a possible way to better her life, even though she knows her brother's foray into that trade landed him in jail. Bleakly filmed and well told, Half Nelson soars because of the immaculate acting by Gosling and Epps. With his impish smile, Gosling provides a character that is at once disarming, alluring, and pitiful. As the young girl who's already seen too much hardship in her life, Epps plays her part with just the right amount of hardened raw emotion. While the ambiguous ending may not please fans weaned on happy Hollywood finales, it's a fitting and believable close to a thought-provoking film. --Jae-Ha Kim

Stills from Half Nelson (click for larger image)

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The Soundtrack

Special Features

  • Filmmakers' commentary
  • Outtakes
  • Deleted and extendes scenes
  • Rhymefest 'Wanted' Music Video

Product Details

  • Actors: Ryan Gosling, Shareeka Epps, Anthony Mackie
  • Directors: Ryan Fleck
  • Producers: Jamie Patricof, Alex Orlovsky, Lynette Howell, Rosanne Korenberg, Anna Boden
  • Format: Multiple Formats, AC-3, Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish
  • Dubbed: English
  • Subtitles for the Hearing Impaired: English
  • Region: Region 1 encoding (US and Canada only)
    Some Region 1 DVDs may contain Regional Coding Enhancement (RCE). Some, but not all, of our international customers have had problems playing these enhanced discs on what are called "region-free" DVD players. For more information on RCE, click .
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: February 13, 2007
  • Run Time: 107 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (134 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000KX0IOK
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #62,817 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Half Nelson" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

For several years now I have been waiting for Ryan Gosling to fulfill the promise that he exhibited in his revolutionary performance in "The Believer." Films have come and gone and in most of them he has been giving good performances ("Murder by Numbers") and problematic ones ("The Notebook") but always with a sense of who he is as an actor and more importantly how he can use his talent and his very being to bring the story of the character he is playing alive.
Now with his Dan Dunne, Gosling has finally fulfilled that promise and his Dunne is complicated (a terrific, human, enabling and encouraging high school teacher who is also a cocaine free-baser), sensitive to a fault, sexually aware...basically a talented, educated, addicted man from a loving family that can't help but fall victim to the baser parts of his nature. He is upright, strong, smart, loving but can't help but call on the appeal of drugs to douse the raging fire of indecision and self-hatred burning deep inside of him. A fire that director/writers Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden choose not to explicitly reveal, though after a Dunne family dinner we are perhaps given some hints into Dan Dunne's upbringing and politically committed family and therefore the genesis of his addiction.
Fleck and Boden give us expositional information in a very interesting way here particularly the juxtaposition, the flipping back and forth of the images between the Dunne family dinner (ex-hippie parents, socially and politically committed brother and his girlfriend... eating, drinking bottles and bottles of wine) and Dunne's student and friend Drey's evening home with family: filling small plastic bags with cocaine, chatting about her brother in jail...all polite and ordinary.
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Ryan Gosling is, without question, one of the finest actors of his generation. And I admire that he is still choosing to work in independent, meaningful films. He's come a long way from his days as a Mouseketeer. I contend that if "The Believer" had not been dismissed from Academy consideration due to a technicality, he could have made a serious bid for a Best Actor nomination several years ago. Even his work in more conventional films like "The Notebook" and "Murder By Numbers" is noteworthy and raises the quality of those productions.

"Half Nelson" is a small film about real people struggling with real problems. Shareeka Epps stars as Drey in a very straightforward, natural performance. She is growing up with the fear that she will become like her brother. He became entrenched in the world of drugs and is currently serving time. There is almost a feeling of inevitability, this is her world and she is incapable of escaping it. Gosling's Dan, on the other hand, is a semi-functioning drug addict who is her teacher. There is a helplessness to his life as well--he shows very little interest in actually changing his situation. But while he doesn't feel as if he can save himself, he channels that concern into saving Drey. And where she can't change her own circumstances, she makes a connection with Dan.

It's an interesting dynamic, one that isn't often portrayed. And the closeness of their bond can be somewhat unsettling in that they are teacher/student, male/female, adult/child. It's not an easy relationship to form under ordinary circumstances.

There are no major revelations by the characters in "Half Nelson". No major confrontations, no climactic scene, no tidy ending.
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"Half Nelson" is one of those small films that tackles gritty subject matter without concern to being "politically correct" or - worse -"marketable" to a mass audience. This allows the Actors and Writers more artistic freedom. Reminiscent of 2000's excellent "Requiem for a Dream," "Half Nelson" shows the ravages of drug addiction on a seemingly normal person. At the beginning of the film, Ryan Gosling's Dan Dunne seems merely an offbeat, creative inner-city Teacher, but the depth of his crack addition soon begins to show. Mr. Gosling bravely tackles this role with grace and a strange dignity - halfway into the film he wears a goofy bandage on his lip after a girlfriend pops him during a crack-fueled seduction. His Oscar nomination is well-deserved: he never takes this role "over the top" and manages to be sympathetic and tragic all at once. Ms. Epps is excellent as well, displaying a maturity and finesse as Mr. Gosling's ally.
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It may be named for an amateur wrestling move, but writer/director Ryan Fleck's "Half Nelson" drips with full-fledged cinematic sophistication from the first frame to the last. A story of two tormented lives inextricably intertwined by unlikely means, the tension it creates on screen is palpable and ever engrossing as it unfolds with increasing momentum.

Best known for his role in the saccharine but well-received 2004 theatrical interpretation of Nicholas Sparks' novel "The Notebook," Ryan Gosling lives his best day as an actor here. His portrayal of drug addict/history teacher Dan Dunn nabbed him his first Oscar nod, and his complete absorption of his character - everything from life-changing revelations to nervous ticks - justifies the accolades. With a fine script by Fleck and his collaborator Anna Boden in his hands, Gosling wrings it out for all its worth, seizing viewers in a way that only the best kind of actor can achieve.

He quickly establishes Dunn as a good guy with a bad habit. An addict who spends many a night catching nary a wink of sleep, he still manages to be a consistent, scintillating presence for his junior high students in inner-city Brooklyn. Urging them to linger over history and consider it, not merely read and regurgitate, he provides an encouraging presence for the kids not just in the classroom but as a coach on the basketball court.

He has a life full of important obligations, but his vices and dour circumstances - including an ex-girlfriend set to be married, played with understated verve by Tina Holmes, known for her work on "Six Feet Under" - keep steering him away from the right path.
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