Written by Nobuhiro Hosoki
After making an explosive debut by playing a Jewish neo-Nazi character in "Believer", and then the sensible boyfriend in "Notebook", which made him a household name, Ryan Gosling is a force to be reckoned with for solid performance by a young actor. In"Half Nelson", he plays Dan, a liberal high-school history teacher and girls basketball coach. He's politically conscious, and also very much in tune with his students by using unconventional methods of teaching and ignoring the regular school curriculum. For that, he gets occasional visits from the principal.
This feature is an expanded version of the initial short film, "Gowanus, Brooklyn", which won a grand jury prize for short film at Sundance. The same adolescent actress, Shareeka Epps is cast as Drey, who happened to stumble across the passed-out crackhead Dan in a girl's locker room. They both develop a blossoming cross-age relationship that also transcends racial boundaries. In a sense, that is a salvation for both of them. Typical for a latchkey kid, Drey has an overburdened single mom who is rarely attentive to her, so she's left only with a surrogate father figure, Frank(Anthony Mackie), who happened to be, ironically, a drug dealer who looks out for Drey after her brother's imprisonment.
Dan's personal struggle with his demon even lends into his nightlife in the bar scene, which is a perfect breeding ground for a self-destructive guy like him. But when it comes to women, he warms up to them with his soft-spoken, puppy-dog manner, often bringing them back his crappy house. But his drug usage takes a toll on both his teaching and his dating, through hangs onto his aimless relationship with Drey. There's also a noticeable performance by Mackie, Who gives an equally top-notch performance with Gosling, demonstrating that his character is more than just a scum of the society.
Director Ryan Fleck and co-writer Anna Boden totally chuck the idea of having a schematic narrative and of overdramatizing a conflict, which is rather refreshing from Stand and deliver type of film. The film also uses to its advantage the non-dialogue moment by effectively inserting the score into key moments. In real life, addicts can't easily turn over a new leaf and recover: it is usually a contestant struggle. So this film is authentic in the sense that instead of resolving the issue, it kind of leave it to the audience to figure it out. After all, unrealistic redemption in Hollywood's drug-related films, is only for the pipe dreamers.
Directed by Ryan Fleck
Written by Mr. Fleck and Anna Boden
Director of photography: Andrij Parekh
Edited by Ms. Boden
Music by Broken Social Scene
Production designer: Elizabeth Mickle
Produced by Jamie Patricof, Alex Orlovsky, Lynette Howell,
Ms. Boden and Rosanne Korenberg
Released by ThinkFilm.
Running time: 107 minutes.
Cast: Ryan Gosling (Dan Dunne)
Shareeka Epps (Drey)
Anthony Mackie (Frank)
Monique Gabriela Curnen (Isabel)
Karen Chilton (Karen)
, and Tina Holmes (Rachel).