HALF NELSON stars Ryan Gosling as drug-addicted history teacher Dan Dunne. The film focuses on the relationship Dunn and student Drey develop after she finds him in the locker room smoking crack.
Gosling does an excellent job of portraying a twenty-something teacher trying to make a difference to his inner city students. Unlike other films of this nature HALF NELSON steers away from sentimentality with Gosling’s speeches falling mainly on deaf ears.
A great hypocrisy runs through Dan Dunne throughout. As he tries to change Drey and keep her away from trouble he never once seems to question himself and his drug addiction.
HALF NELSON deserves top marks for acting and the delicate friendship between Drey and Dan is handled with care, but ultimately it is only the acting that holds your attention in the film. Director Ryan Fleck appears to have bought himself a ‘how-to’ on indie filmmaking, with almost every scene shot in close-up with a shaky handheld camera. Many scenes are filled with out-of-focus grainy shots when it is completely unnecessary to what is going on.
Overall HALF NELSON is a film filled with great performances but it tries too hard to fit into the hip-indie category.
Text review by LiveWire Critic, Greg Jones (May ’07)