Many people have probably never heard of Half Nelson, a film that was directed by Ryan Fleck and released in 2006. It had a budget of $700,000, which is considerably small compared to other modern day films. However, this film is the source of Ryan Gosling‘s only Oscar nomination (so far), one that was rightfully deserved. Gosling is joined by Anthony Mackie and Shareeka Epps, two solid supporting actors.
“The sun goes up and then it comes down, but everytime that happens what do you get? You get a new day.”- Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling)
Half Nelson follows the day-to-day struggle of drug addict Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling). Dan is a history teacher and basketball coach at an inner city middle school in Brooklyn (NYC). He truly wants to inspire his students to make a difference in the world. He encourages them to speak their minds and use their imaginations. However, Dan simultaneously fights a deep drug addiction that he cannot seem to stop. As the film progresses, his addiction spirals. Fortunately, one of Dan’s students, Drey (Shareeka Epps), realizes the problem and stands by his side. The responsible Drey faces conflicts as well, with a full-time working mom and a drug dealing “friend” (Anthony Mackie). The chemistry between Dan and Drey is special, because both need each other to survive the situations they live in. Both are dreamers that want to do more for the world, but they are hindered by their backgrounds and surroundings. The challenge for the pair is how to overcome and have faith that things will become better. The film ends with a glimpse at Dan and Drey as they turn over a new leaf, giving hope to the audience that the silver lining has been discovered.
The acting performances are what make Half Nelson so convincing and touching. As mentioned before, Ryan Gosling was nominated for Best Actor for his role as Dan Dunne. Surprisingly, that was the only Oscar nomination the film received. Gosling did an excellent job portraying such a likable but struggling person. One cannot help but sympathize for him since he shows such a good and promising personality when he is with his students. His performance is very authentic. Shareeka Epps does a fantastic job playing the role of Drey. Drey is very mature and Epps shows powerful emotion through her expressions. Anthony Mackie portrays the person that Drey does not want to become, and this is significant. Each presentation of the characters is raw and believable.
Half Nelson focuses on just how destructive addiction can be. It shows the unfortunate reality that a good person, like Dan Dunne, can fall into an extremely deep hole. There is one scene in particular that gives the audience a hint to where Dan’s addiction originates. His parents are alcoholics, so he is not able to turn to them for assistance with his own problem. It is within his DNA to have an addiction, which makes it easier to get lost and more difficult to escape. Drey lives in a similar situation. Her parents are divorced and her mom works a full-time job. Her brother is in jail and she does not have any close friends. Drey does not have anyone to reach out to when she faces conflict. She is only thirteen and has to act as an adult. These circumstances are why Dan and Drey form a close bond.
This film is compelling to those who have faced addiction or know someone who has. It can be relatable or shed a new light on something one might not be familiar with. The portrayal of the struggles are real and eye-opening. The cast and crew deliver a strong story about an unusual bond and the fight to conquer an intense battle. I really recommend this film!
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This film is rated R for language, drug use, and adult content.
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