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4.1 out of 5 stars67
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on 5 February 2008
Ryan Gosling is exceptional in his role as a teacher at a comprehensive school and gives off raw emotion that at times is not only difficult for the character but the audience watching. He is superb and is an actor to watch for the long-term future.
Despite Gosling's inability to relate to the people that try and get on with him who are not directly involved in his life, he comes across as a simple but effective man but with hidden side-issues on what kind of world he is living in. He gets through any emotive negative within him by being truthful to himself and witty with others.
The film flows smoothly and without any preudice towards generic charachters and the music is unique and fitting. All the supporting players do a great job especially the drug-pimp(probably the nicest dealer portrayed in films) but theres the point of the film, do not take people on face-value or even the things they do to make money or get-by because there is a deeper meaning to what these characters are trying to achieve.
A film i could relate to and i especially like the scene where Gosling gets asked by his 'over-night guest' in the morning "Why do you have a copy of the mien kampf?" and he answers with a slightly cold but reasonable answer of "Just because i have a copy of that book, it doesnt make me a nazi". Theres something odd yet distinctive about the way he looks at life and the surprises with in his own. Its not till the end that Gosling's character realises its time to believe in not just his own thoughts but of those around him...and more importantly kick the habit..because although its an easy to get into and difficult slippery slide to hide your irresponsibilty, its a route that must be declined!
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on 22 July 2007
Half Nelson tells the story of an idealistic young teacher Dan, unable to break his cycle of cocaine and crack abuse. Labouring under the delusion that he will finish an illustrated children's book on 'dialectics', he teaches history at a run-down innercity school. Bringing left-wing theory into his lessons on the civil rights movement, his classes comprise predominately black teenagers from a poor suburb. When he has the sobreity to give them, that is; throughout the film he is increasingly unable to function with any kind of clarity.

Early in the film he is found in a locker room cubicle high on crack by one of his students Drey, and a tacit understanding is reached between them. She, whose brother has been incarcerated from involvement in the drug trade, can see how crack is devestating her community, but is still allured by the success of 'Frank', a drug dealing "family friend". Frank gradually enrolls her in his business; drugs providing her with a potential but probably ephemeral means of escape from the squalor of her broken home. For Dan, the escape is from the burden of completing his book, and from turning his political ideals into affirmative action. His inertia and drug-addled stupour are shown in contrast to footage of highly impassioned speeches from the civil rights movement, calling on people to throw themselves down on the machinery of the system to grind it to a halt. Decades after the civil rights movement, many people in the black community are still caught up in the prison system, or denied opportunities to further themselves socially; but Dan is increasingly aware how little he can do about it. His classes on the dialectics of change through opposition, start to sound hollow when there is so little hope for his students. It sounds especially hopeless to Drey, who knows about Dan's secret drug problems, which conspire to bring them together in an unlikely union of opposites. The question of whether Dan and Drey can progress and change themselves is left open, the film ending (as many of the best do) ambiguously.

It is an interesting work marred slightly by some polemic interludes featuring Dan's students recounting key events from the civil rights movement. This is not well contextualised and doesn't add anything to the film's themes. However, there is some fine use of film style to evoke Dan's crack-induced inertia. The dislocation and emptiness of his "highs" are realised with canny editing and blurred-focus that are quesily suggestive with the minimum of post-production trickery. Dan makes a convincing lead; one can imagine Paddy Considine playing the lead role if such a film could be made in the UK. But better still, for me, is Shareeka Epps as Drey, perfect as the coy teenager growing up under a multitude of imperfect influences. Also worth a mention is the soundtrack, largley provided by Canadian post-rockers Broken Social Scene. Rather than buying the OST your money might be better spent on their stunning 2003 album 'You Forgot it in People', from which much of this film's music is taken.
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Dan and Drey, the former a High School teacher, the latter a student, two people of different ages and of a different race, two people ambling thru life in search of some semblance of meaning to their respective existence. When Drey stumbles upon Dan's secretive drug problem, it's the start of a friendship that could just shape their respective destinies.

A Half Nelson is a hold in the sport of Wrestling that is almost impossible to break free from, and thus we have the basis for this smart and brightly written picture. I myself had avoided this picture for close on two years, I looked at the summaries and presumed that it was yet another preachy life affirming film about a white teacher working in an inner city school and winning over the troubled black kids, how wrong I was. Even tho Half Nelson's plot is heavily reliant on the perils of drugs, and the usual slant of a minor being exposed to narcotics and the worms that peddle the death to people, it's written in such an affectingly intelligent way, it just never comes close to being a cliché driven piece. Both our two main characters here are fully formed and we know enough about their respective lives to understand fully about the redemption yearned for, and crucially, also needed by Dan and Drey. As we enter the final quarter, we the audience are intently observing these two people and their interwoven paths of destiny, filmed in an earthy fly on the wall style, it's with much credit that all involved here have created a moving and believable piece.

Ryan Gosling (Dan) continues his surge up the A list of modern day actors, boasting a number of affecting performances on his CV, this is yet another turn to cement his well earned reputation as a leading light of his generation. Playing off him very well is young Shareeka Epps (Drey), a totally engaging performance that hopefully bodes well for a promising career, whilst Anthony Mackie is highly efficient as drug dealer, Frank. With smart and nifty work from director writing team Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, and a quite excellent soundtrack that fuses Billy Bragg with Broken Social Scene, Half Nelson is a winner on many many levels. 8.5/10
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 3 December 2013
Ryan Gosling once again gave a performance worthy of his Oscar nomination in 'Half Nelson'. This intense and sensitive drama centres around the private unhappiness within the life of a young history teacher/basketball coach (Ryan's character) called Dan Sune, who is a drug addict, but a good man who has simply lost his way in life. The cameras follow every emotion that goes through this guy's mind, trying to escape his feeling of failure and personal letdowns through the excessive use of crack cocaine.

We soon meet a sensitive student (played by Shareeka Epps) called Drey, who cuts a lonely figure. She has seen the damage that drugs have down to her now imprisoned drug dealer brother, but she and Drey form an unlikely friendship. Drey has been encouraged by others to get herself into the drug business, and Dan feels it his duty to help her, but as an addict himself, he is unable to.

'Half Nelson' is very real and thought provoking indie film, and a story of hope. Disregard the one star reviews and give it a watch. Ryan Gosling has given many great performances, but I still regard his 2006 portrayal of the trouble teacher as one of his best.
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VINE VOICEon 13 February 2011
I won't go into a story summary as that has been covered in plenty of the other reviews but will give you my thoughts on this film. I really enjoyed it, the story is not spoon fed to you which I appreciate. It almost feels like you are watching a fly on the wall documentary, we are witnessing the teachers self destruction and the student's destruction through circumstances beyond her control. The two obviously connect from the start, even before she witnesses his drug taking. I felt drawn to both the characters and absolutely loved the shocking scene very close to the end where they both reach rock bottom and their paths intersect.

Don't watch this film if you need loads of exposition as to what is going on, or if you need monstors or guns and bombs. Do watch this film if you have ever thought about the meaning of life, why are we here, and are interested in relationship dynamics. I think that Ryan Gosling is excellent I. The movie, and all his other ones, a cool, low profile actor whose film choices are very fascinating. The actress playing the student is amazingly natural and refreshing and why oh why is she not in more!!
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on 8 April 2010
Funny and moving, thought-provoking without being preachy, Half Nelson has to be one of the finest independent films of the last decade. Ryan Gosling is, if we're honest, surprisingly excellent as a crack-addicted Brooklyn public-school teacher who strikes up a complex friendship with a young student played by the phenomenal Shareeka Epps. It's unclear throughout whether their friendship is based on attraction, desperation or something else entirely. Although throughly bleak at times, the film ends on an intriguingly ambiguous, oddly uplifting note, although it couldn't be called a happy ending. The film offers a nicely nuanced and ambiguous portrayal of the awkward student-teacher relationship, and does so with a open-mindedness that will appeal to anyone impressed by films like The Woodsman [DVD] [2004]. Half Nelson is an incredibly impressive debut from directors Fleck and Boden, and one that promises great things. Watch it.
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HALF NELSON is a steadily paced, low-key movie from director Ryan Fleck. Given the subject matter, this flick could have easily become a syrupy melodrama, but it's understated, "fly on the wall" presentation helps the highly talented actors to weave their magic beautifully. This ain't MELODRAMA, this is REALISM.

The film is ostensibly about the relationship between crack addict history teacher DAN and his pupil DREY. Both of them lead troubled, uneasy lives and each feels a responsibilty for the other. Crucially, the magnificent performances of Ryan Gosling and Shareeka Epps serve to make each character sympathetic and very, very likeable. Gosling, in particular, is MAGNETIC in this movie.

HALF NELSON is a deeply absorbing character study and well worth a watch. It is a worthy examination of our vulnerability as human beings - the mistakes we constantly make and the people we inadvertently hurt as a result. Above all, it highlights our compassionate nature and our innate ability to care for one another. This is one of those movies whereby you finish watching it and maybe resolve to become a better person!

As a final comment, I also feel compelled to say that the closing scene of this flick is near-perfect.

A thought-provoking, satisfying film. RECOMMENDED.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 22 September 2014
Film-maker Ryan Fleck’s 2006 Brooklyn-set drama follows in a long line of similar (‘gritty’) tales of dysfunctional and disaffected members of modern urban communities, but whilst its premise is therefore rather unoriginal Half Nelson (for me, at least) rises above the run-of-the mill via its (unusual) subtlety and a number of highly affecting acting turns. In fact, Half Nelson’s storyline of Ryan Gosling’s maverick, insecure and hallucinogenic school teacher, Dan Dunne, befriending Shareeka Epps’ 13-year old pupil from a broken home, Drey, and the latter’s struggle to find identity and resist the temptations of local 'family friend’ (and drug dealer), Antony Mackie’s Frank, calls to my mind TV’s The Wire (particularly the 2nd series – from which Tristan Wilds appears as a pupil here). And, whilst Fleck’s film cannot hope (of course) to reach the dramatic heights (or character scope) of David Simon’s epic tale, it still has a good deal to commend it, including its impressive cast and eclectic and vibrant soundtrack (featuring Broken Social Scene, Billy Bragg and others).

Fleck sets up the film’s political backdrop of civil rights and liberalism skilfully via Dan’s unconventional teaching approach, his radical personal convictions and the 'namedropping’ during his history lessons of key events in recent US politics (the Attica riots, the assassination of Harvey Milk, etc). But Half Nelson is certainly not (in any sense) a political diatribe, but rather a more intimate study of two unlikely (school) colleagues and friends. Along with his similarly powerful turn in 2010’s Blue Valentine, this is the most impressive I have seen Gosling – here a confused waster (essentially) whose life (and loves) are slipping away, unable to break from his cycle of hedonistic immaturity (hilariously being asked at one point by his head-teacher, 'Is that gum in your mouth?’) – whilst Epps delivers a remarkable film debut, full of hesitancy and sensitivity, as the adolescent struggling to make sense of conflicting personal demands. Cast-wise, also worthy of praise is Mackie’s turn as the (largely sympathetic) 'bad influence’ on Drey, whilst Denis O’Hare turns in a typically brilliant cameo as Dan’s fellow teacher, the deliciously cynical Jimbo.

For me, Half Nelson is certainly not a classic (it does rather meander at times), but its lack of dramatic intensity and its unwillingness to stray into more clichéd melodrama actually work in its favour in the end, making it unusually understated for this milieu, but all the more powerful for it.
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on 10 October 2008
A crucial story about history, change, sterotypes, addiction, the civil rights movement and the ability to make 'good' choices. The cast are warm and likeable but the main character, a brilliant school teacher, with a huge drug habit, reaches his pupils in a way no other 'ordinary' adult could. Built around his developing relationship with one of his 15 yr old students, the story hits something more real than just the inappropriate nature of his behaviour. Some of the best choices are maybe the most questionable!
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VINE VOICEon 2 March 2008
Ryan Gosling plays Mr. Dunne, a history teacher at an American inner city high school. In the classroom he is thought provoking and popular with his students. In his private life he is depressed and unfulfilled and uses crack cocaine to dull his disappointment with his life. When a girl from his class, Dree (Shareeka Epps) catches him getting high after school one night, they form an unlikely friendship.

This may sound like another Dangerous Minds with all the usual cliches of a white teacher trying to be a good role model to disaffected black kids but Half Nelson is much more. For a start, his class clearly like and respect him, unaware of his personal battle with drugs. Although Dree needs him to replace her deadbeat dad and incarcerated brother, he also needs her to give him purpose. As he becomes close to the child he tries his best to steer her away from the drug dealing friend who seems determined to look after Dree whilst her brother is in prison. Mr Dunne wants her to stay away from drugs but can't cope without them himself. Gosling and Epps turn in wonderful performances in this intelligent and poignant drama.

Like this? Try: A Room For Romeo Brass
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