Half Movie, Half Life
Written: Mar 17, 2007 (Updated Mar 17, 2007)
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
- User Rating: Excellent
Pros:Honest approach to difficult subject, Unbiased, Gosling and Epps
Cons:Many long silent scenes, abrupt ending with much unresolved, very sad
The Bottom Line: Half Nelson is one of those movies that lets you know more about yourself, the world, and others.
Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.
Half Nelson is a strange gem of a movie. It will appeal to several different kinds of people. People who simply enjoy independent "real" storytelling, people seeking out brave performances from new talent, and people who can relate to the struggles the characters face. Hey, maybe even teachers will like the movie! I love independent film-making,
I think there are so many freedoms they take and they're, at times, much more rewarding than mainstream fare. (Though I'm still a huge fan of blockbusters as any movie buff should be!)
Ryan Gosling plays Dan, an inner-city school teacher in New York. He's a cool cat, wears his shades into the teachers lounge, quips with students most skinny white guys would be intimidated by. He comes across as one of those people that doesn't make judgements when he meets you. He sees you for who you are. Which is a perfect way to be to be a teacher.
So, in some ways, he has the perfect career.
But there's a certain amount of stress in Dan's life. He doesn't seem to be totally inspired and I believe he questions himself too much - almost to an obsessive degree.
And worse, he abuses drugs (crack-cocaine mostly) to get through the day, including all his school activity.
The movie quickly develops into a story about unexpected friendship after one of his students discovers his addiction in a really horrifyingly painful scene.
It's not a movie about spectacular bonding... he doesn't teach this young girl about the ways of life. Oddly, she seems to be just as in the know of the way the world works as Dan is. Maybe that's why they need each other in this time.
Though unsexual, this relationship the film builds reminds me a little bit of the one Nicolas Cage and Elisabeth Shue constructed in 1995's Leaving Las Vegas. It was sort of the kind of connection that combines without shame or judgement.
You can tell the young girl doesn't want Dan to abuse these drugs as she sees how many lives they've ruined just in her apartment building alone. But she understands drug abuse as she sells them to these same ruined people to help her mother out of financial binds. The more important question, I suppose, would be why she doesn't want Dan in particular to use them.
That's where the movie is a very strange gem. It honors the ideals of teacher/student and puts into effect the possibility of relationships that are pure and have best interests involved for both. Dan doesn't want his new friend to be exposed to this lifestyle as much as she doesn't want to see him go through the ringer. Since they are mature enough through life experiences - they don't try to fix one another. Instead, they just accept each other as is.
It's sad in some ways. The movie doesn't patch up anything by the end - in fact, one of the most despaired scenes happens right before the final one. But the movie does offer hope and reinforces the power of human connection.
Ryan Gosling is great in this part. He's in his early 20's and received an Oscar nomination this year for Best Actor. That's really impressive. Look at the past nominees for Best Actor, rarely do actors his age get nominations.
There's never a moment in the movie or anything he does that doesn't seem like this Dan character. "Ryan Gosling" is nowhere to be found, it's just "Dan". I think this is why so many people found this performance to be astounding. He has the confidence to be insecure, the stamina to work you through silent moments, and the instability to make it all seem like real life.
The young girl is played by a newcomer named Shareeka Epps.
She has this raw, powerful hold on her time in front of the camera that is very touching and genuine. No false rings with her performance either and looking at the Best Supporting Actress/ Best Actress nominees from this year... there's no real reason she shouldn't have been nominated alongside Gosling.
To be negative as to get a fuller picture, the things I didn't enjoy about Half Nelson were the little sub-stories of Dan's background just momentarily hinted at. I didn't quite understand the sexual attack on his fellow teacher or totally understand his relationship with his ex.
But this is a sort of pedestrian approach to the character.
You don't know much about Dan, ultimately. And that's because drugs and self-doubt dominate his existence.
He's smart enough to know he's in trouble and should get better... but he needs to find a why.
It's a bleak film with moments of hope and honorable to the accuracies of life.
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Better than Watching TV
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older