With the Academy Awards coming up, many websites devote months to deciding who should be nominated and eventually win, an Oscar. Most movies that come up for Oscar consideration all are usually smart and deep. “Half Nelson,” a movie that hasn’t received a lot of attention, has heart and a truly memorable story that will leave you talking after you exit.
The story of “Half Nelson” revolves around middle school teacher Dan Dunne played by Ryan Gosling. Dunne’s life revolves around his addiction to cocaine. As his life spirals out of control the only motivation he has is teaching his inner city students history. As he tries to teach the children, who normally wouldn’t be motivated by ideas of change and standing your ground, one of his students (Shareeka Epps) discovers his addiction. As they try to remain teacher and student, with the knowledge that his student knows, the line between teacher/student/friend becomes blurred. This leads to problems for the both of them with Dunne eventually spiraling out of control.
This is an incredibly powerful movie, with some equally heavy themes. As the movie starts you are introduced to Dan Dunne, a history teacher who doesn’t feel he’s making any difference in the lives of his students. The movie itself is shot in a very in-depth manner. The camerawork is right in the trenches giving you the effect that you’re right there. There is also a great ability in the film to have the actors express a ton of emotion, with very little dialogue. Since a lot of the film revolves around deception, subtle expressions are used to great effect. The film also has amazing themes, the idea of teacher/student relationships and where a teacher becomes a friend is shown to perfection.
The film itself is incredibly put together; the only real gripe is the backstory of the student Dre (Epps) and Frank played by Anthony Mackie. Their relationship is defined only slightly, and is never really dwelled on until the beginning and end of the movie.
The characters and the actors who portray them are nothing short of amazing. Ryan Gosling gives the performance of the year as Dan Dunne. Any student can relate to having a teacher like him, young who you see as a friend. His character is incredibly complex and Gosling is able to pull off every aspect of his character. Newcomer Shareeka Epps is amazing as Dre, she is able to expertly pull off the role of a student facing problems of her own, growing up, and the realization that the sole role model in her life is a crack addict. Anthony Mackie is also perfect as Frank, Dre’s drug dealer friend/mentor.
“Half Nelson” is a movie that will probably end up getting overlooked in favor of the bigger Oscar contenders. With perfect performances and a story that is relevant and insightful, “Half Nelson” is a hidden gem in the indie community.