Friendship can bring people together, who are different in many ways. It can cross generations and happens at any time. Unlike the blandly inspired movies about friendship between a teacher and student, "Half Nelson" (2006) deals with a emotionally appealing relationship, devoid of false sense of reassurance. The movie also show-cases Ryan Gosling's talent, whose magnetic and sensitive performance is full-fledged embodiment of human anguish.
Gosling plays as a devoted instructor in teaching the inner-city middle-school students about complex sociopolitical and philosophical theories.He takes pride in molding young minds. But, it's not inspirational like "Stand And Deliver" or "Dead Poets Society." Half Nelson represents a much more troubled and complicated soul than most on-screen inspirational teachers.
PlotDan Duanne (Ryan Gosling), whose parents are liberal do-gooders, is addicted to cocaine and other drugs. He is a frustrated novelist, who is writing a children's book, but it sits on his coffee table half-finished, under overflowing ashtrays. He is also an eighth-grade history teacher in an inner-city school of Brooklyn. He gives heartfelt lectures about the importance of understanding history, rather than just memorizing it, and speaks primarily of philosophies, the tensions between two opposing forces, to the kids, most of whom are black.
Drey (Shareeka Epps) is a bright 13-year old, who is not that great at basket ball and not that motivated in school. Her brother's buddy, Frankie (Anthony Mackie) is the local dealer, and he in his own warped way wants to help the Drey by giving her work in his operation. One day, after a basket ball game, Drey finds Dan passed out in a bathroom with some crack. This confidential occasion bonds them together in way that neither one expects. He reaches out to rescue her from the influence of Frankie, and she opens her teacher's eyes to the hard facts.
AnalysisRyan Gosling as Dan makes you forget that he is acting. His transformation into a drug-addicted teacher is so effortless and true, and so filled with sorrow. He is able to flit between comedy and tragedy with just a lift of an eyebrow. His acting is powerful in the scene, where he screams “I don’t know!” in absolute agony when faced with a crucial question about how he can positively impact a young life by being a drug addict himself. Dan is high most of the day, disdains teachers and principals who show up to work on time and try their best, attacks refs at the girls basket ball game, but you might still root for Gosling's character, swayed by his sweet nature and intellectual commitment.
Shareeka Epps as Drey in an revelatory debut performance matches Gosling's star turn. Epps, whose wakeful inner focus is only heightened by her beaming smile, shows she's every bit equal to the task as a tough and vulnerable 13-year-old girl caught between the teacher she idolizes and an equally charismatic and protective drug dealer. Anthony Mackie as the drug dealer has a charismatic and smooth presence. Frank could have easily been shown as a bad guy, as the cause of so many problems in America’s inner cities and used as an man against whom we could judge Dan and his noble desire to help Drey. Instead, he is shown as a man who has selected the only path in life that he sees as rewarding and viable.
Director Ryan Fleck shoots the movie in a way that's bleak and unsentimental yet brimming with humanity. He adds immense details to the every day exploits of a addict and an drug dealer, without any shoot-outs or OD's. Fleck's directing triumph lies just in a devastating look of Gosling rather than a cheap emotion or a teachable moment. Fleck's jerky, hyperactive camerawork, although makes the movie realistic, sometimes detracts from the studied loveliness of Epps and Gosling's performance. Writers Fleck and Anna Boden managed to sidestep the cliches of the white-teacher spreading knowledge to black kids sub-genre and the darker aspects of the drug dependency drama, creating an original work that is moving, and not without humor.
Half Nelson is a term used for the wrestling move by which an opponent's own strengths are used against him. The title is a metaphor for each character's struggle to break free, and it's an apt analogy. Half Nelson is tentative even in its title and is more than honest enough to settle for genuine uncertainty. The movie builds an image of solidarity forged across the lines of race, class, age, and gender. It suggests us to embrace both opposites in the ongoing human struggle for change.
Watch Half Nelson for its wonderful offbeat performances and it makes us face the truth without giving in to despair.
Half Nelson - IMDb