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Half Nelson
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Synopsis for
Half Nelson (2006) More at IMDbPro »

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Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling) is a young inner-city high school teacher whose ideals wither and die in the face of reality. Day after day in his shabby Brooklyn classroom, he somehow finds the energy to inspire his 13 and 14-years-old to examine everything from civil rights to the civil war with a new enthusiasm. Rejecting the standard curriculum in favor of an edgier approach, Dan teaches his students how change workson both a historical and personal scaleand how to think for themselves.

Though Dan is brilliant, dynamic and in control of the classroom, he spends his time outside school on the edge of consciousness. Early in the film we see Dan smoking crack in a school locker room after he coaches the school's girls basketball team. While there, one of his players, Drey (Shareeka Epps) catches him getting high. As the plot moves forward, we learn little about how or why Dan got involved with drugs. We find that a former girlfriend has successfully gone through drug rehab, and that the Dunne family has fissures of its own. But Fleck primarily sets moods throughout the film, leaving large ellipses for the viewer to fill in, rather than directly illuminate Dan's story.

Drey's troubles are more plainly spelled out. Her parents are not together, and her father is irresponsible and seemingly uninvolved in her life. Drey's brother, Mike, is in prison for selling drugs for a neighborhood dealer, Frank (Anthony Mackie). And Drey's mother is constantly working as an EMT to keep the family together. Drey's lack of proper adult supervision make her a target for Frank's operation.

The tension in the film comes from Drey's attempts to save Dan from the consequences of his drug habit, and Dan's efforts to keep Drey from following in her brother Mike's footsteps. These two people are better able to save each other than to save themselves.

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