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Young Caucasian Dan Dunne teaches history and coaches the girls basketball team at a Brooklyn high school populated primarily by black and Hispanic students. To the chagrin of his superiors, Dan bucks the outlined curriculum of historical facts in favor of the philosophy of historical events, generally discussing the concept of dialectics. As such, he captures the imagination of his students, at least in the classroom. Outside of the classroom, Dan's life is in shambles. He has a distant but cordial relationship with his family. He uses illicit drugs rampantly. Although his former girlfriend Rachel was able to clean up her drug habit, Dan believes that rehab will not work for him. Due to a combination of these issues, he treats women poorly. Thirteen year old Drey is a student in his class and a player on his basketball team. Drey has her own problems. Her parents are divorced, with her father a virtually non-existent figure in her life and her EMT mother generally absent as she is ...Written by
Was originally made as the short film Gowanus, Brooklyn (2004), which won an award at the Sundance Film Festival. Shareeka Epps and Karen Chilton reprise their roles as Drey and Drey's mother. Matt Kerr, who plays the substitute teacher Mr. Light in this film, played Mr. Dunne in the original short. See more »
[rolling his eyes but gamely playing along]
The Interrupting Cow.
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Half Nelson, the first feature by director Ryan Fleck, steers clear of the inspiring clichés of teacher-student films and the usual violence of films set in the ghetto.
Half Nelson is a character study, with a meager plot stretched into a one-act film. Not to say this is a bad thing. If one wishes to be thoroughly entertained, steer clear of this film. If one wishes to have a comfortable time at the movies, steer clear of this film. However, if one wishes to view a unique and risky example of independent cinema, see this film.
Any viewer can tell how much blood and sweat went into making Half Nelson, which was shot on 16mm for less than $1 million. Ryan Gosling is truly admirable for seeing something in this screenplay. After breaking viewers' hearts in The Notebook, Gosling carries this film. Gosling plays Dan Dunne, a Brooklyn middle-school teacher who is addicted to crack cocaine, with admirable subtlety. It's a performance that will make the audience cringe with anguish and sympathy as Gosling takes one self-destructive step after another.
It isn't surprising to hear that Half Nelson was once a short film by Fleck titled Gowanus, Brooklyn. That film starred the young actress Shareeka Epps as a bright, tough African-American girl named Drey in Dunne's class. The film characterized her unlikely friendship with Dunne, after she discovered his crack habit. Epps reprises her role in Half Nelson, and is astonishingly good in her feature debut, giving a real, down-to-earth performance. Rounding out the main cast is the charismatic Anthony Mackie as Frank, a local drug dealer who is actually nice.
Anna Boden's screenplay, co-written by Fleck, is filled with ranges of intensity, awkwardness, sadness, and humor. Fleck veers from the norm in his direction, giving an extremely claustrophobic look into the lives of the characters.
Half Nelson, although somewhat painful to watch, will stay with you for a long time.
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