Posted on 1/02/07 09:29 AM
Half Nelson starts off with a familiar scene; a young, energetic white male played by Ryan Gosling is teaching in an inner-city elementary school, looking to make a difference. His kids love him because he?s hip enough to understand them, and the school principal doesn?t because he teaches in an unorthodox fashion. He also coaches the girls? basketball team, and seems to have an interesting relationship with one of his students, Drey (Shareeka Epps). On the outside, Gosling?s Dan Dunne looks and sounds like your conventional morally upright teacher, but this image is quickly removed when you see him do his first line of coke. Even worse, he gets high after one of his team?s games and is walked in on by Drey. This doesn?t really seem to come off as a shock to her really, she?s been around drugs her whole life, and her brother went to prison for being involved in trafficking (Epps does a great job throughout of showing very little emotion on her face). The rest of the movie displays the unique relationship Drey and Dan have with each other, which at times walks the fine line of suitable and inappropriate. Dan needs drugs to mollify his demons and Drey, like many urban kids believe, views drugs as a ?way out the hood.?
Gosling plays the self-destructive Dan incredibly, melding both hope and desperation in his performance. The character is torn between needing the drugs and needing to be a role model for his students, and Fleck captures this ambiguity perfectly. Epps is equally up to the task, playing the tough skinned Drey, who is on the brink of losing any childhood innocence she might have left, having the one person she looks up to being hooked on the same thing that seems to bring down everyone else in her life. The thing about this movie that can?t really be stated enough is Fleck?s great direction. He shoots the movie in a way that flawlessly captures the gritty ambience of an urban city environment, and the quick inclusions of important historical events were done well. The film culminates with a scene between Dan and Drey that consist of the two just looking at each other, but Fleck?s direction and Gosling?s ability to express such depth of emotion with just his face turns it into one of the most heartbreakingly powerful scenes of the year. The soundtrack accompanying the film also can?t be understated, especially the choice of Broken Social Scene, which richly added to the atmosphere and was a huge plus for me. The film doesn?t pretend to give morally ethic solutions to the characters problems, and doesn?t try to give a happy ending, and it?s because of this sheer honesty that reigns throughout that allows the film to work so well.