Directed by Ryan Fleck
Starring Ryan Gosling, Shareeka Epps and Anthony Mackie
Dan Dunne (Gosling) works in a disadvantaged school where he is an engaging and unconventional History teacher. Out of school hours, a troubled social life is fuelling a drug habit which is becoming more debilitating. One night Dan's professional life becomes intertwined with his sordid affairs when a student Drey (Shareeka Epps) stumbles upon his secret. What initially seems like an unlikely relationship is perhaps not so, as they both understand what the other should stay away from.
If you ever find yourself doubting Gosling's acting ability, you need only watch this movie to affirm the fact he's a massively competent actor. He understands that real people are not one-note so his character toys with charm, vulnerability and force in a way which is far more believable than the majority of protagonists out there. Gosling, Mackie and Epps are not removed from reality and this makes the emotional backbone of the film that bit more potent.
Half Nelson is unapologetic in its ambiguity and revels in the fact the movie goes largely unresolved. But instead of being unsatisfying, it's quite the opposite. The movie carries a quiet level of elegance, subtlety and unpredictability which alludes to a real life balance between optimism and pessimism. On the contrary, the film would have felt insincere and hollow if all the ends had in fact been dealt with in a fairytale Hollywood manner.
Dunne's addiction seeps into every aspect of his life as the film progresses. The fuzzy cinematography, out of focus close-ups and shaky camera shots echo Dunne's own perspective in an inventive way. Narrative slight of hand is almost non existent in Half Nelson, this delicate approach is unorthodox because as a viewer it is unclear how you should emotionally respond and this, some could say, made it feel long winded.
This film is not original, but it stands out from other American dramas of this genre for being completely unhurried and sobering in its script, direction and acting. This may not be a film you rewatch over and over again, but it will stay with you long after the credits roll.