Half Nelson | The Moviegoer

Sunday, October 1, 2006

Half Nelson

Posted By on Sun, Oct 1, 2006 at 1:40 PM

Half Nelson, starring Ryan Gosling and Shareeka Epps, is a movie worth seeing.  Ryan Gosling gives an outstanding performance as Dan, a junior high history teacher, who, when not advocating the intricacies and virtues of far-left politics to a class of 13-year-olds, is smoking crack. 

I could not imagine Gosling in this role, but he fills it well and his performance should be remembered when awards are dished out by the critics at year's end.  You cannot help but cringe during this film because you know Dan.  You do.  He's a well-educated kid from the New York suburbs who's become so disenchanted with the state of the world and his inability to change it, that he sits alone in his apartment with his cat and gets high. 

Enter Drey, one of Dan's students, who finds him on the floor of the girls bathroom after a basketball game so high that he can't sit up.  In one of the most gutwrenching moments of cinema this year, we see, in those few minutes, that Drey isn't shocked.  She's not even surprised.  This is her world; a world where finding your teacher on the floor stoned out his mind is, for lack of better words, not surprising.  Epps dazzles as Drey and we will see her for years to come. 

The filmmakers take two difficult issues head-on.  Drug addiction and race are not simple and they are not treated simply in this film.  They rip off the kid gloves and go right to the heart of both, but they don't resolve them.  After all, they are issues unresolved and the filmmakers don't dare ruin our experience with unbelievable solutions to them. 

While we don't know what lies ahead for Drey or Dan, we want to believe that it's good.  For many reasons, we have to believe that. 

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