Ryan Gosling's self-destructive teacher is easily the year's most mesmerizing character study. And he's hardly the only reason to see this film. Shareeka Epps anchors her scenes as Drey with a self-possession way beyond her years.
Gosling is indeed amazing as a bewildered, depressed New York schoolteacher who is slipping into dire drug addiction; it's exactly the kind of star turn in a smaller film that Academy voters could (and should) notice.
Although the subject promises more than the film can deliver, there is compensation in Gosling's convincing, unromanticized portrayal of someone seeking escape from longing and loss that neither he nor the movie can really define.
Made with assurance, restraint and psychological acuity by director Ryan Fleck and anchored by Ryan Gosling's commanding performance, this paradigmatic American independent feature approaches recurring themes in a compelling new way.
For director Ryan Fleck, co-writer/producer/editor Anna Boden, and their remarkable cast, the solution is to underplay every scene and let the central character's ambiguities set a rocky course for the movie to follow.
Downbeat as it is, Half Nelson is a genuinely inspirational film -- a terrifically compelling character study and a tricky exploration of the links (and busted links) between the personal and the political.
The scalding talents of the moody, introspective young actor Ryan Gosling are sharply focused in Half Nelson, elevating an otherwise slight and depressingly offbeat film high above the realm of the ordinary with blast-furnace force.