Half Nelson Reviews
With its powerful romantic sides as well as its dark sides this story can really touch you deep inside.
I did feel slightly disappointed at the abrupt ending . However a good film
I have seen a number of films that revolve around teacher-student relationships; exceptional ones include School of Rock, Garden of Words, and The Class (Entre Les Murs). Half Nelson revolves around this relationship but adds elements of drugs and role-modelling into the mix. It tells the story of Dan Dunne, a history teacher who has a drug habit that he cannot seem to shake off, despite multiple trials of rehab and other alternative measures; he states that the children he teaches allow him to gain a sense of control in his habit, but he says this with a sense denial and slight delusion.
One night, one of his students (Drey) find him to be smoking, what I believe was crack, in the girl's locker room after a basketball game at their school; assuming that nobody would be present long after the game was over. This exposure of Dan's flaw to a student begins to make him worry, but instead it became like a friendship. Their relationship is based on mutual understanding of one another, seeing the flaws within themselves, and from Dan's standpoint, tries as much as he can to help and support her with many aspects of her personal life. Drey's clings on to Dan due to the emptiness within her caused by her constantly abandoning and unreliable father, Dan slowly filling that void and influencing her in a positive way. But Dan is not the only role model in Drey's life, with the presence of Jimbo, a friend of her jailed brother, showing her the ropes of his profession; slowly drawing her in and building his own mentor-like relationship with her. It was the battle between Jimbo and Dan for Drey's influence and admiration that kept me engaged; not knowing how it would all turn out, and whether which one would do something drastic first that would solidify her direction.
I did however feel that it spent too much time on Dan, when I personally felt that Drey had a lot more to lose. There was an internal tension inside her that would have been amazing if it was given enough time to explore, but the filmmakers were too fascinated with the Dan character, and the flaws that he carries, attempting to catch out sympathies in order to give the film an emotional weight. I also felt Jimbo's character was a little unexplored, displaying enough for audiences to understand his purpose, but not enough to make him a compelling character. It is sad because the performances brought by the actors were already great; they simply needed more time to flesh out. Though I did appreciate the filmmakers' ability to let the two leading males of Drey's life to not seem antagonistic, they are no doubt flawed, but it reminds us that all humans are, and that we should judge them on the good they bring to others rather than the bad that simply only affects them personally.
Half Nelson could have been a powerful drama, or a deeply affecting character study, but the film's characterisation flaws and misplaced focus prevented it from being so. Regardless, the film has its virtues through the performance of its cast and the tense battle for a young child's soul.