Reviewed by: Misty Wagner
|Producer||Anna Boden, Lynette Howell, Rosanne Korenberg, Alex Orlovsky, Jamie Patricof|
Passionately, Dan Dunne teaches and inspires the middle school kids in his class. He gets down and relates to them in a way that obviously connects. Being a white teacher in this inner city Brooklyn school seems a difficult enough obstacle. Somehow, though he manages to reach them with his enthusiastic discussions on things like Civil Rights and challenging them to boldly confront and explore change on every level, foremost, thinking for themselves. The audience is there to witness his edgy teaching style and is easily won over to this character who struggles with a drug addiction behind closed doors—controling every aspect of his life, making it increasingly dark and more desperate.
It was very convicting for me, a viewer, to see how extremely different the two sides of Dan were. As a teacher, he is colorful and vibrant about encouraging students to think for themselves and act on what they believe. However, outside of the classroom he is passive and controlled—by drugs and an apparent self image that he is worth nothing and a waste of breath.
When one of his students, Shey (the amazing and captivating newcomer Shareeka Epps), witnesses Dan’s drug use, we are then made aware of Shey’s background. The younger sister of a now imprisioned drug dealer, abandoned by her dead-beat-dad and left alone due to her overstressed and overworked single mom… The only way the family seems to survive is by the financial care and mentoring of Frank, the pusher who Shey’s brother Mikey had worked for… As the story develops we learn that Frank is also Dan’s dealer…
A bond forms between Shey and Dan as she keeps his secret and he learns more about her life. They seem to each be inspired, in some way, to look out for and protect one another. It’s a heartwarming and sad relationship—One that we, as viewers, tend to flip flop between feelings of sickness and grattitude. Sick because we are taught to believe that Dan, as her teacher and adult, should “grow up” and change… Stop the cycle. Grateful because, as her life seems to worsen, we see him there, always. Even though he is his own sort of mess, he is constant for her and truly does care.
The story content is uncomfortable. Drug addiction isn’t pretty… The society that drug trafficing resides in, is depressing and desperate. The idea that a child who has been forced to grow up way to fast could live such a life and her only source of hope come from a drug addicted and therefore incredibly selfish teacher—is tragic…
The math of the scenario lends little optimism to the idea that there could be hope within this story, but I believe their is. Not in the plastic, candy-coated sense we seem to crave from “entertainment”… But it’s there. This film manages to show us that we can’t confine or dictate how hope or redemtion will come. Who are we to limit the power of God? Though this movie doesn’t credit God for anything, it doesn’t romance life without Him either. It paints a real image, about real life and tragically real scenarios…
The story is redemptive in a realistic light… As much as we would like to see their lives change and become something clean and beautiful, that isn’t exactly reality. This story wasn’t made to end in a neatly tied bow. Its focus, I believe, was to enlighten, educate and convict us while also giving us just enough entertainment to make us feel touched on every level…
Filmed with raw cinimatograghy and realistically grungy asthetics, the films plays out, at times, like a documentary. “Half Nelson” works as a film, on every level. It’s successful as a portrayal of drug addiction. It could easily be educating, raising awareness with its practical storytelling…
It’s entertaining with the clever script and occasional humor during it’s very uncomfortable storyline. The potrayal of Dan, in my opinion, is the pinnacle of Gosling’s career. The challenge of playing a character who is such a light to his students and yet lives in such darkness, had to of been a difficult one but Ryan Gosling has met the challenge and exceeded it incredibly.
Violence: Minor / Profanity: Heavy / Sex/Nudity: Moderate