Written January 23, 2008
A very deliberately-crafted story which nonetheless succeeds in drawing two believable and sympathetic characters: an idealistic inner-city high school teacher with a drug problem, and a 13-year-old female student who teeters at the edge of innocence. The interplay between the two characters is excellent and moving. The movie raises interesting analogies between philosophy, history, and individuals' struggles with daily living. The keywords are dialectics and change. These themes are universal, and had great impact on me.
Written January 12, 2016
If students not only wondered, but found out what their teachers were up to when they finished teaching them for the day, I bet you that students would show more respect for teachers. No film has ever opened my eyes to how dense teacher's souls can be, causing me to regret viewing my teachers as simple human beings, and not striving to make personal relationships inside the classroom. Ryan Gosling gives a quietly moving performance playing a young middle-school teacher with a drug problem. His character, Dan Dunne, forms a friendship with one of his students named Drey (Shareeka Epps). The story transcends from a sweet story to a character study on a man who tries to pass through his troubled life to find meaning along the way. Gosling gives a tour de force performance in "Half Nelson." His poignant way of being realistic enough to believe someone like Ryan Gosling could be a teacher transforms our view of a so called "pretty boy" and reminds us we're viewing the flight of a soaring actor full of talent. Writer/Director Ryan Fleck makes it clear he's striving for a redemption story. His characters and shockingly realistic writing have the force to capture the peeks of our hearts, break it in half, and then build it back up. In a subtle fashion, Fleck shows a story of coming out from a shell. There's plenty of moral questions and destiny ideas thrown at us to have us consider the paths of our own lives while we experience an independent film like no other capture our minds and spirits. Thrown students giving presentations to the class, Dan feeling trapped in his life, and a thoroughly effective examination of impoverished city life, "Half Nelson" is both devastating and one of the most unforgettable independent films of our time.