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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)
Beyond Half Nelson at Amazon.com
The Films of Ryan Gosling
More Oscar Nominated Roles at the Amazon.com Oscar Store
- Filmmakers' commentary
- Deleted and extendes scenes
- Rhymefest 'Wanted' Music Video
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Ryan Gosling's body language contributes importantly to the overall effect. When he's dancing, coaching the girls' basketball team, holding a girl in his arms, there is a deep sense of relaxation. But this doesn't mean peace, which the filmmakers point out in defining"half nelson" as a state of being trapped, clutched, between a rock and a hard place.
This is the quintessential independent film, completely estranged from everything Hollywood represents. The only visual flaw which annoys us is when a girl punches Ryan Gosling on the lip, and he's wearing the American flag on his lip for twenty minutes.
The final shot of Gosling with Drey sitting at opposite ends of the couch, waiting for nothing, "just chillin", is beautiful and calming. The future will come in its own time, no hurry.
Not to be missed.